Given his doggedness on defense and the energy with which he plays, it was no surprise that when the Lakers lost guard Avery Bradley to injury, their defense suffered.
It also was no surprise that his teammates and coaches weren’t just willing to slump on that end of the floor.
So after a few sub-par defensive performances, coach Frank Vogel issued a challenge to his team. Each game, he wanted the Lakers to strive for a defensive rating, by their metrics, that was better than the top-ranked defense in the NBA.
He called it the Avery Challenge.
Such is the importance of Bradley to the Lakers’ identity. And though the team’s defense won the challenge twice on its recent road trip, the Lakers will welcome him back upon his return. That could happen as soon as Wednesday.
Bradley, who was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his lower right leg three weeks ago, was reevaluated by Lakers doctors Saturday and cleared for full-contact practices. He will remain out Sunday night against Minnesota. If all goes well in the next few days, Bradley likely will be listed as probable for Wednesday’s game in Orlando.
That contest begins a five-game trip that also goes to Miami, Atlanta, Indiana and Milwaukee.
“Avery Bradley has really a one-of-a-kind ability to just set a tone defensively with his tenacity in picking the ball up full court,” Vogel said. “And just everybody understands you can’t dribble the basketball around the guy. So I think that just impacts the overall energy of the group, and I think our guys have worked hard to overcome that.”
Bradley initially sustained the injury Nov. 3 against San Antonio. He left the game but felt well enough to play in the subsequent week and a half. But it still was bothering him, so Bradley had an MRI exam Nov. 15 that revealed the fracture.
“Just having another elite defender out there, it just puts some more pressure on everything else,” Vogel said. “It changes the matchup. KCP is now guarding the starting unit’s best player, rather than coming in [with the second unit] — and a lot of teams come in with a great second-unit scorer. And Alex is assuming that role. So it just affects your depth.”
The numbers were stark.
The Lakers had the best defensive rating in the NBA from the start of the season until they lost Bradley. After, they dropped to ninth.
But the Lakers have taken the Avery Challenge to heart. This past week, they had the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA.
“We take every game personal,” forward Anthony Davis said. “We want to go out there and be the best team. We want to go out there winning each quarter. We want to be out there diving on the floor. We want to win in hustle points. We want to win in rebounding. All the little things. If we continue to do that, we’ll be fine.
“We give ourselves the challenge, we call it the Avery Challenge. … We lay our hats on defense knowing it’ll fuel our offense.”
Rondo has sore hamstring
Lakers guard Rajon Rondo played only the first half of Friday night’s 136-113 win at Portland because he experienced soreness in his left hamstring.
“Just tightness,” Rondo said after the game. “I’ve been feeling it for a couple weeks now, but tonight I just told ‘em I should probably call it tonight after halftime.”
Rondo scored six points, making both of the three-pointers he attempted.
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Staples Center
On the air: TV: Spectrum Sports-Net; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: The Timberwolves (10-11) dropped the first two games of their four-game trip, at Dallas and in overtime at Oklahoma City.