In back-to-back games, the Denver Nuggets scored 85 points, then 140 points. Even with current league MVP Nikola Jokic, you don’t always know what you’re going to get out of Denver’s offense.
The same can be said of the Lakers’ defenses recently. After their first four-game winning streak of the season, the Lakers (21–21) find themselves embroiled in a series of defeats in which they conceded at least 125 points.
While Russell Westbrook’s slump has received a lot of attention recently, coach Frank Vogel said that is not what worries him most ahead of Saturday’s game in Denver.
“Our defense has been very poor in the last two matches. “We learned that more than anything else. There’s a reason we didn’t win the last two games and we had an upbeat session in the film and on the court in terms of getting better on that side of the ball.”
Paramount was the Lakers’ inability to keep Sacramento out of the paint, where the Kings scored 70 points. The Lakers scored the most points in the paint all season, as the defense didn’t play with the unity Vogel is trying to drill in them.
Denver doesn’t have the same foot speed as Sacramento, but the Nuggets have pesky drive-and-kick playmakers like Feku Campazzo, Monte Morris and Bones Highland, as well as quick-trigger shooters like Will Barton and Austin Rivers. And they have the Jokic, a unifying force in their attack that can shoot or pass through from anywhere on the court. Saturday’s game is particularly important as the seventh-placed Lakers attempt to chase down the Nuggets, who are directly ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
In their short-ball plan with LeBron James at the center, the Lakers have relied on quick attack to close the gap created by the lineup at the defensive end. In their last eight games, they lead the NBA by a wide margin in offensive ratings (120.4), but they are just 24th in defensive ratings (114.7).
Denver presents a test of how committed the Lakers are to playing the small ball. As recently as the post-2020 season, the Lakers deployed Dwight Howard to bully Jokic on the defensive end. For now, Vogel is hiding his hand until tip-off, but he’s ready to play short against the 6-foot-11 center, averaging 14 rebounds per game with 25.5 points and 7 assists to go.
“I’m not going to release my lineup, but there’s a lot of value in trying to push him,” Vogel said. “Guard him on the perimeter as much as possible and use the space aggressively.”
The Lakers, of course, are spending time until Anthony Davis is cleared to return from an MCL sprain in his left knee. The team is scheduled to evaluate the All-Star Big Man early next week, Vogel said, about a month after he was injured on December 17. ESPN reports that Davis could return during a six-game road trip to kick off January. The Lakers assume Davis to start in the center whenever he returns, while still using James in the center in the secondary winding.
Johnson’s hope for long-term spot
Stanley Johnson’s second 10-day contract is set to expire after Saturday’s game in Denver, and while his stat line (5.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.4 epg) has been modest, teammates and coaches have pulled out at the last minute. Talked about his toughness and defensive intensity. Month. It’s not clear what the Lakers plan to do with Johnson – they may sign him for another 10-day deal, or sign him on their open roster spot for the rest of the season – Johnson That is definitely his priority.
“Obviously the goal is to get into a team and obviously stay for a long time,” he said. “It’s a goal of mine. If it happens, it happens and I’ll be very excited about it. I think (the Lakers are) going to be really, really solid and I’ve honestly been here for myself.” Enjoyed it. And we go from there.”
Vogel has highlighted how moving the short ball off Johnson’s wing has exposed some aspects of his game, forcing him to take less ball-focused action on the periphery and his in the paint. The emphasis is on seriousness and physicality. The 6-6, 240-pound forward, who was a star at Mater Dei, has been a stalwart in short-ball lineups featuring either James or Carmelo Anthony at center.
While the Lakers may wish to maintain flexibility with their roster location, there is certainly some appeal to Johnson’s defensive tenacity. He has hit at least one 3-pointer in four of his eight matches, and Johnson believes reconnecting with his one-time trainer Mike Penberthy at the Lakers positively influenced his jump shot. may continue to do so.
Growing up at Fullerton, Johnson has long rooted for the Lakers, and he said being on the team is a memorable experience he will cherish – but he hopes for more.
“Not only getting the chance to do it, but doing it on some of the best days that you could possibly do on Christmas Day and things like that, being able to start, has been a great experience for me,” he said. said. “Obviously I’m greedy, I want to be able to finish the season and kinda … finish what I’ve started.”