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Lakers

Lakers’ Nick Young is getting defensive too

Lakers guard Nick Young celebrates after making a three-pointer against the Mavericks on Dec. 29.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Nick Young has always been a shooter, and lately he has been one of the best in the league.

But before Saturday’s practice, Lakers Coach Luke Walton reminded Young that defense, not offense, is why he’s in that position at all.

“It’s tough when you got labels on you,” Young said. “That’s what coach wants me to do. Told me before practice, ‘Even though we’re losing, don’t forget why we got you out there. Bring energy. We’re trying to label you a defender now.’ ”

Young embraced the memo wholeheartedly.

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In a scrimmage that concluded practice, he shouted taunts about Jordan Clarkson, the player he was guarding, begging the opponents in the scrimmage to run a play for Clarkson. When they did, Young blanketed Clarkson, stole the ball from him and flipped it forward to point guard D’Angelo Russell.

“That ain’t no foul,” Young said as the play concluded in points for his team.

On the next possession Young took on rookie Brandon Ingram and blocked his shot, shouting proudly after the play.

Young’s joy in scoring still shows constantly, and he has had plenty of opportunity to show it lately. During the last seven games, Young has made 29 three-point baskets, second-most in the NBA after Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, who has made 32.

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His 53% shooting during that span ranks second among starting guards who have played in at least five games. Only Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Memphis’s Tony Allen are shooting a better percentage. Among starting guards attempting at least five three-pointers per game, Young’s three-point percentage ranks fourth after the Clippers’ J.J. Redick, LaVine and San Antonio’s Danny Green.

“I don’t want to jinx myself,” Young said. “I just get extra shots up every day after practice. Playing with confidence. I think that’s the best thing for me.”

Against Dallas on Thursday, Young made his first six shots, five of them three-pointers. But after making his first four three-pointer in the first quarter, his opportunities dwindled. Young didn’t shoot in the second quarter, and shot only twice each in the third and fourth quarters. The Lakers lost, 101-89.

“I think we got away from him a little bit in terms of moving the ball, everybody making the next pass, getting the open shot,” Clarkson said.

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All Young can do is keep shooting when his opportunities come.

But as he does that, Walton is making sure Young isn’t forgetting the other half — the half the Lakers have struggled with as a whole, and that Young has in the past. He’s at the point where the stops feel just as good as the baskets.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Young said. “I like to talk trash, too.”

Dreary December

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The Lakers were 2-14 in December, the worst December record in the NBA. They beat only the Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Brooklyn Nets ranked 29th in victories in December with three, one against the Lakers. The 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat each won only four games in December, and one of the Heat’s victories came against the Lakers.

The Lakers ranked 27th in field-goal percentage, committed the second-most turnovers and had the second-worst defensive rating in the league during the last month of the year.

Ivica Zubac update

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Lakers center Ivica Zubac had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the 2016 finale for the D-Fenders, the Lakers’ development-league affiliate where Zubac has been assigned periodically this season. The Lakers recalled Zubac after Friday night’s game.

Zubac averaged 16.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 29.6 minutes per game with the D-Fenders.

UP NEXT

VS. TORONTO

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When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday. 

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 12-24; Raptors 22-10.

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Record vs. Raptors: 0-1.

Update: While the Raptors’ defensive rating is middle of the road, it’s their offense that really drives them. Their offensive rating was the best in the league in December. They have the fifth-best record in the NBA and are shooting 47% from the field, which also ranks fifth in the league. DeMar DeRozan is averaging 27.4 points per game and his 9.9 field goals per game rank third in the league after Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. They’re one of those teams that’s just professional about the way they go about their business,” Walton said. “They’re playoff tested. They’re going to come in and wear you down. They do what they do and they’re going to do it really well.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Twitter: @taniaganguli

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