In the early going of this NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been almost unstoppable on the offensive end. However, head coach Luke Walton is more concerned with the fact that the defense has been subpar at best.
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These defensive flaws were even more apparent during fourth quarters, when at times it felt as though the Lakers couldn’t buy a stop. However, after starting the season on a three-game losing streak, Walton has seen a shift in the team’s fourth quarter defense.
“The growth that’s continuing to happen, tonight was about the fourth-quarter defense, which we’ve struggled with minus the Phoenix game,” Walton said after the Lakers held the Denver Nuggets to eight points in the final six minutes of a 121-114 comeback win. “We really struggled to get stops in the fourth, and tonight we did that.”
Walton, in his three season with the Lakers, has always preached defense first. Last year, the 35-47 Lakers team surprised many by ranking No. 11 in defensive efficiency. “That’s the whole idea of preaching so much about defense. You can control your own destiny when you have the ability to go get stops,” Walton explained.
In the victory against the Nuggets, the lineup that brought the Lakers back from down eight with six minutes to go was one that many saw as unconventional. To start, Walton took LeBron James out in favor of Lance Stephenson when the Lakers faced the eight-point deficit.
And only after Stephenson went on a solo 6-0 run to pull the Lakers within two did Walton bring James back in. Walton praised that very undersized lineup, though, saying, “That small lineup we were able to get to, because they got stops, showed how dynamic they could be on the offensive end, running with the spacing and skill set of that group.”
In future games, it’s likely that Stephenson will be replaced by the soon-to-be returning Brandon Ingram. However, this unlikely grouping of five perfectly practiced what Walton has been preaching his entire coaching career, that getting stops in the fourth quarter is the easiest way to win.