Whicker: Lonzo Ball’s defense gets better in absentia

August 17, 2020

first_imgLOS ANGELES — The thing is, Lonzo Ball was not drafted for nor was he particularly renowned for his defense.But with each passing day, loss and humiliation, the Lakers consider him some sort of defensive transformer, a 94-foot Jack Lambert.They would like you to consider Ball the same way, as the world struggles to comprehend how LeBron James’ team could be five games behind Danilo Gallinari’s team and a game-and-a-half behind Buddy Hield’s team, with the Lakers playing the Clippers on Monday night.They would like to trace this 23-33 stretch of parody-account basketball to injuries alone, and not just the one that James overcame. Ball has been out with an ankle sprain and a bone bruise since Jan. 19, and the Lakers have lost 11 of 16. Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers But James and Walton both think it starts out front defensively, where Ball used to be. Fans might not want to hear that, but the numbers don’t refute it.Since Ball left, the Lakers are 30th in the league in defensive efficiency, the way the NBA defines it.Before the injury, the Lakers were giving up 113.4 points per game. Since the injury, they’re giving up 121.5.The opponents’ field goal percentage was 44.8 before and is 48.0 since. Foes averaged 32.9 3-point attempts before and have averaged 35.3 since.“Our starting point guard is one of the best in the league on defense,” James said. “He can pick up guards all over the court, he gets deflections and steals. Not having him has hurt our defense as well.”“It’s hurt us a lot,” Walton said. “He’s a big, versatile guard. He’s strong, he can guard multiple positions, and he’s what you need in today’s NBA, with spread offenses and pick-and-rolls and these guards who can shoot. He does a nice job navigating through all that, being the front line of our defense.”That said, the Lakers have no business losing to the Knicks, Suns, Hawks and Cavaliers of the world, none of whom have James or Kuzma or any particular interest in winning.Their casual effort through three quarters in Phoenix was the fodder of the sporting commentariat for two days. James was not spared. Most skilled players will get numbers if they have the ball as much as he does, but it’s difficult to recall James playing this much me-against-the-world basketball in the past. When he does that, everyone else does, too. Brandon Ingram has been revelatory lately, but he also is much better when he plays with others. Nor are the Lakers better without Ivica Zubac, even though JaVale McGee went 10 for 10 at Phoenix.And even though James flayed himself for some of the mishaps Saturday night, it is uncomfortable to hear him separate himself from the rest of the group after they all lose together.Related Articles “I don’t think we’re flawed,” James said. “I think we’re inexperienced. There isn’t a problem with the team, besides winning or losing. We still have an opportunity to be great today.”Greatness will be needed on other days, too. The Lakers have Denver and Boston here this week. They still visit Oklahoma City, Toronto and Milwaukee. The final two games of the season are with Utah and Portland. But when you can’t handle the truth in Phoenix, who cares who and where you play?Someone asked Walton about staying in the moment. “The moment is happening,” he replied. “You might as well embrace it.”You might as well surround Ball’s ankle with hot cloths and exotic oils, too, until he returns and we discover what is cause and what is coincidence.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersAfter they took a butte-whipping for most of Saturday’s game in Phoenix and then got close enough to blame the eventual loss on a blown call, Kyle Kuzma observed that there was “something wrong” with this team and they had to fix it, having lost to “every bad team in the league.”“If he said that today I might be concerned,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said on Monday morning. “After a loss, players and coaches get emotional. The Phoenix game was bad. We’re not hiding from that.”The rest of the world has run with Kuzma’s comments, has been eager to believe that something is wrong from within.The young guys lost heart during the trade rumors. James hasn’t been the leader that we anticipated. There is negligible outside shooting, even though Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala were brought in to fix that.They don’t care or they care too much. They have nasty habits, they take tea at 3. You name it. Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed last_img

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