LOS ANGELES -- After sitting out a game against the Chicago Bulls due to a right adductor strain, Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis led a nice defensive effort by his team in a runaway win over the Houston Rockets to start their three-game road trip.
Davis had earlier lamented his team’s lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor but said Sunday’s effort in a 120-102 win over the Rockets was more like the Lakers need to play to win another title.
“We have a lot of guys who are really good defensively, and we know how good we can be,” Davis said. “We know how good we want to be, and it wasn’t showing in the previous games. Tonight we came out much more aggressively defensively.”
The Lakers held a talented offensive team in Houston led by James Harden to 41 percent shooting, finishing with 13 steals and eight blocks. Davis finished with three blocks. Davis said he and his teammates were more active with their hands and did a better job of communicating on the defensive end.
LeBron James said the goal is for the Lakers to be the best defensive team in the league and praised Davis for holding everyone accountable.
“AD (Davis) can say whatever he wants because it’s all for the betterment of our team,” James said. “And we respond to that. We thought it was right on point, and we were able to finish it off with a very good defensive game against Chicago, even though we didn’t score the ball like we’re accustomed to. And then we followed it up tonight (Sunday) with another good defensive game. So, we heard him loud and clear.”
At the end of the third quarter of his team’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs last week, Davis’ frustration boiled over.
Davis had been showing growing frustration with a few calls that didn’t go his way from the officials. But mainly Davis was upset with how his team played defensively, knocking a cart over in disgust.
“We didn’t play any defense. Our defense was s--- tonight,” Davis said after the game. “We didn’t play one lick of defense and guys did whatever they wanted. They (San Antonio) came into this game very comfortable, guys made shots and made plays. … We never played defense from the opening tip until the final buzzer, and that’s why we lost.”
At 8-3 overall with the best record in the league, the defending champs are about where NBA observers expected them to be at this point of the season.
However, according to Davis there’s ample room for improvement, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
“Some nights we bring it defensively, and some nights we don’t,” Davis said. “We have spurts in the game where we’re really good defensively. But for the entire 48 minutes on a consistent basis, we haven’t. There’s always going to be mistakes. Teams are going to make shots. You’re not going to be perfect the entire 48, but we’re not executing what we’re supposed to do, and our communication has been terrible I think for the first nine games that we’ve played. And we’ve got to be way better defensively if we want to have a chance to defend our title.”
The Laker are allowing 106.2 points a contest, No. 4 in the NBA. Not awful. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel can point to a handful of reasons for his team’s uneven play defensively, including limited practice time with no live reps and a cast of five new players learning his defensive coverages.
“We’re just getting everybody tied together with the schemes, with the new guys learning what we’re doing” Vogel said. “We finished up last year defensively very different than the way we started. We grew throughout the year with our package and arsenal of schemes that we can throw at teams. I think the biggest challenge this year is to not overcomplicate our schemes in these early regular season games.”
Davis isn’t buying Vogel’s rationale.
“There’s no excuse for that,” Davis said. “Defense isn’t about schemes or things like that, it’s about energy and effort. It takes nothing to leave it on the defensive end. You can’t control the offensive end when shots go in and out, but defensively you control how hard you play.
“We’re playing hard, but we’re late on our coverages. Our communication really hasn’t been good. We’re good in the first, initial 10 seconds of the clock -- even 15 seconds into the clock -- but it’s that second action or third action that teams run that kinds of gets us.”