In the three games heading into the All-Star break, the Lakers allowed 129.3 points a game.
Their challenge through the end of the season will be returning to and maintaining the defensive improvement they worked so hard to achieve all season.
“It’s hard to become a consistently really good defensive team, especially when you’re learning,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “As a team you see teams that are together for a long time, they’re able to do that because it just becomes second nature to them. We’re still preaching what’s important to us. We’re building our culture.”
The three games heading into the All-Star break marked an uncharacteristic backslide for a team that had worked hard this season to become a respectable defensive team after years of futility. There were times before the All-Star break when they were one of the league’s best defensive teams. Then they allowed 130 points to the Dallas Mavericks, 139 to the New Orleans Pelicans and 119 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Unfortunately, from what I saw … I think we gave in to fatigue, honestly,” Walton said.
The other thing those games had in common was they came after the trade deadline, when the Lakers sent Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We get better but then we go through stretches without practice where guys get hurt or traded, whatever it is and then you gotta take a couple steps back,” Walton said.
On Friday against the Mavericks, the Lakers returned to their earlier form.
“That has just been our focus the past two days so we had carryover from practice,” Julius Randle said.
Ball feeling better
Lonzo Ball emerged from the locker room for his usual pregame work with Lakers assistant Miles Simon, only this time something was different from the past month and a half.
He wasn’t wearing a sleeve over his left knee anymore.
“He didn’t wear it to the breakfast meeting [Saturday], which was nice,” Walton quipped.
Ball played Friday for the first time since Jan. 13 when he suffered a sprain to his left medial collateral ligament. He missed 15 games with the injury. He played 17 minutes, a few shy of his restriction of 20 minutes per game. Ball would have reentered the game if it was close, but the Lakers won handily.
Ball said after the game that he had a little trouble moving when he went right, but that generally he didn’t feel restricted by his knee. Although he wanted to, Ball did not play Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings because the Lakers want to limit his back-to-back games during his return from the injury.
“I want to play every time I can if I feel I can play,” Ball said.
Ball’s minutes limit is expected to increase when the Lakers play in Atlanta on Monday.