Lakers’ defense is a work in progress that will take time

Lakers forward Anthony Davis blocks a layup by Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis blocks a layup by Warriors guard Stephen Curry during the season opener Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

As Golden State ran its offensive system deeper into the shot clock, the Lakers helplessly chased Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole, running after the Warriors’ backcourt like a child chasing a puppy — always too many steps behind to stop them.

The hope is that months from now the Lakers will be so connected and in tune with their defensive philosophies that they’ll make up for not always being quicker by being smarter and more disciplined.

“Obviously, we want to contain the ball one-on-one, win our one-on-one matchups. But if a guy gets beat — and guys are gonna get beat off the dribble or off a closeout — then our team defense has to be there,” Anthony Davis said after Lakers practice Thursday. “And it’s not just guarding the first action. If they drive, kick it, swing, pick and roll, swing, drive … it’s multiple actions. And that’s where we’ve got to get better, just playing through the whole 24.”


They’re not their yet. Minus the kind of elite on-ball defense that former Lakers like Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided, the Lakers are going to need to be better as a group. That takes time and patience.

“Obviously, that’s a concern of mine,” coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ lacking a wing stopper. “But we have to get the job done regardless of that. What I like is that we have two-way players. Everybody on our roster is good on both sides. There’s just not this specialist that we had — guys that are elite on that side of the ball.

“But there’s other benefits to the other side, too, you know what I mean? And our thing is we just have to get our guys really executing our scheme at a high level. If they execute our scheme and chase their perimeter guys into our bigs the right way, and then pass them off the way we want to within our scheme, we’re confident that we should have an elite defense again.”

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The Lakers have had two top defenses in the top three during Vogel’s tenure, and he’s regarded as one of the NBA’s best tacticians in that regard. But the team doesn’t have the same pieces, particularly on the perimeter.

With news that backup guard Kendrick Nunn, considered by some scouts to be one of the Lakers’ best perimeter defenders, will miss the next few weeks because of a bone bruise, the options on the outside are even thinner.

He joins guard Talen Horton-Tucker (thumb), forward Trevor Ariza (ankle) and guard Wayne Ellington (hamstring) as players unavailable for the Lakers game against Phoenix on Friday at Staples Center.


“The great thing is we have depth,” Vogel said. “If everybody is healthy, we’re gonna have to make some difficult decisions as to which guys to go to, it’s just brought clarity to those decisions. It’s not a situation where we don’t believe in the guys that we have. We have the right depth to still get the job done. We don’t feel like that’s going to limit us.”

The Lakers might end up turning more to veteran guard Avery Bradley, who the team claimed off of waivers after Bradley lost a bid for a spot with the Warriors.

Davis said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka checked with him and LeBron James this summer once the Houston Rockets turned down Bradley’s team option, wanting to make sure there were no bad feelings about Bradley opting out of the NBA bubble. He cited concerns for the health of his young son, who struggled to recover from respiratory illnesses, as to why he stayed behind.

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“It got brought up to us and Rob asked us, obviously, because of the whole bubble situation and all that to make sure we were all good. And we were all good,” Davis said. “And then this summer, we knew we had an opportunity from the buyout. We talked to him for a little bit. It didn’t work out. And then we had another opportunity and we were able to get him the third time around. We definitely wanted him here. What he can bring to us defensively and offensively is something that we need.”

Westbrook bounces back

After badly struggling in his first game with the Lakers, guard Russell Westbrook impressed his teammates with his attitude and production during Thursday’s work.

“He was himself. As a person and on the floor,” Davis said. “He got to some of his moves, the post-ups, where he scores. Dribble back downs where he scores and dribble pull-ups off the glass — his go-to when he scores. Talking [expletive] to everybody and all that.


“He was his normal self and it’s good to see that. He had a day off to reflect, get over it, flush it. And then come back to practice and get back to being himself. And hopefully it carries over to tomorrow where he can be Russell Westbrook.”

Carmelo Anthony said while he doesn’t know what Westbrook is dealing with specifically as he integrates to a new team, he’s walked in those shoes before — strangely enough — when he joined Oklahoma City to play with Westbrook and Paul George.

“We’re here to keep him positive, keep him motivated, keep him understanding that there’s only one game. He’ll figure it out. You’ll figure it out. We’ll help you figure it out,” Anthony said. “But yeah, I know what it’s like, I know what it’s like being from here and wearing the white hat on the team to being one of the guys who’s wearing the white hat on the team. So it’s a different feeling, a different emotion, a different mindset that you have to have.”




When: 7:30 p.m., Friday

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

Update: The Lakers’ season debut of their overhauled roster ended with a thud Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors, and things should only be tougher Friday when the Phoenix Suns come to Staples Center. The Suns are coming off a trip to the NBA Finals and have retained all their key players while the Lakers are still figuring each other out. Considering Phoenix lost its home opener, you’d expect Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the Suns to be extra sharp on Friday.