Wesley Johnson in starting lineup to improve Lakers’ defense

Houston Rockets guard James Harden tries to drive past Lakers forward Wesley Johnson.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden tries to drive past Lakers forward Wesley Johnson.
(Scott Halleran / Getty Images)

The recent story for the Lakers has been the play of Jordan Hill, who has notched consecutive double-doubles since his promotion to the starting lineup.

And quietly, Wesley Johnson has also made an impact over the last two games in the starting lineup.

Since Johnson and Hill joined Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Pau Gasol, the Lakers have defeated the New Orleans Pelicans and challenged the Denver Nuggets before fading late in the fourth quarter.

On Wednesday in Denver, Johnson blocked five shots, had three steals and made two three-pointers, making him the first Laker to have that combination since Robert Horry had five blocks, three steals and one three-pointer on Halloween in 1997.

At 1.7 blocks a game, Johnson is now tied for 11th in the league with Milwaukee’s John Henson.


Only six players have more total blocks than Johnson (17), including the defensive-minded big men Roy Hibbert, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Brook Lopez.

Johnson is still finding his way offensively, shooting 34.5% from the field, but he’s been a steady outside threat, shooting 40% (14 of 35) from three-point range.

Hill and Johnson give the Lakers a different look. While previous starters Nick Young and Chris Kaman are offense-minded, Hill and Johnson bring badly needed defense -- so far without much of a scoring drop.

Young and Kaman have found productive roles off the bench, and the Lakers’ rotation now seems more fluid.

Johnson’s athleticism and defensive ability are important to a Lakers’ squad giving up an average 105.8 points a night.

The Lakers still have a lot to prove given their 4-6 start. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s decision to improve the starting lineup defensively makes a lot of sense, but it remains to be seen if it will help the team climb to .500.


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