Bresnahan: Lakers Winning Formula
It's not enthralling. No headlines atop sports websites or, old-school style, above newspaper folds.
Defense rarely wins the nightly sports highlight countdowns. It doesn't get much placement on magazine covers.
Yet it's exactly what the Lakers are doing now to win.
They allowed an average of 98.3 points in three victories since returning home from a drubbing in Denver. Taco coupons are flowing freely at Staples Center.
Nothing shows it more than Sunday's box score, specifically the second quarter. Phoenix had 15 points on five-for-23 shooting. Brandon Ingram, the only Laker to play all 12 minutes, finished with a staggering plus-25 rating in the second quarter.
Still awake? Good. So are the Lakers, moving closer to a top-four spot in the Western Conference thanks to a renewed effort in an area that means something to Coach Luke Walton.
“I was very happy with our defensive effort again,” he said Sunday, and who could blame him? He's pushed for this for, oh, more than two years.
Despite Walton's background as a Golden State assistant coach, reporters did not see a flurry of three-pointers when the doors opened near the end of Walton's first practice as the Lakers' coach back in 2016.
In fact, there was no work on offense until the third day, a surprising development at the time.
The down-and-dirty truth is he's wanted to stop teams first before trying to fly past them since being hired.
“I think that's where we can make a lot of progress as a team is how we get after it on defense,” Walton said in September 2016. “Ultimately that will allow us to get out and run.”
In beating Dallas last Friday, the Lakers held super-rookie Luka Doncic to six points on two-for-13 shooting.
“We tried to contest every shot he took,” Ingram said after the Lakers' 114-103 victory.
They're contesting plenty these days, whether opponents are launching near the three-point line or aggressively trying to attack the basket.
It's working. The wins are starting to stack up.
Somewhere, Walton is smiling.
Three things to look for this week:
1) Will Rajon Rondo return?
The reserve point guard isn't supposed to be back officially from a broken right hand until Dec. 13 at the earliest.
But he's ramped up his basketball-related activities and, if he returns early, would boost a second unit that could use his organizational skills.
The Lakers have used Ingram as the backup point guard, usually letting him sit the last few minutes of the first and third quarters before playing him heavy minutes in the second and fourth quarters.
In the victory over Dallas, however, veteran forward Michael Beasley briefly became the Lakers' point guard with Ingram also on the court.
Rondo is averaging 8.5 points and 6.5 assists in 25.3 minutes while receiving compliments across the franchise for his handling of the Lakers' younger players. He has missed the last nine games.
2) If the Lakers beat San Antonio on Wednesday, they'll sweep a four-game homestand for the first time since January 2010.
It's nothing that will appear in the year-end video recap but another sign of momentum in a season starting to see more of it.
The Lakers have two close losses to the Spurs already, 110-106 in San Antonio and a 143-142 overtime loss at Staples Center in which DeMar DeRozan had 32 points and 14 assists.
3) The Lakers have stumbled into a bad habit lately.
They fell behind Dallas by 15 points Friday before rallying and trailed Phoenix by 17 points Sunday before a strikingly efficient 40-point second quarter flipped the game in their favor.
With two games this week against San Antonio and Saturday's road contest in Memphis, the Lakers might not be as fortunate if they lag early by double digits.
“First quarter, we were terrible,” LeBron James said Sunday before crediting Beasley (14 points) for the second-quarter spark.