The Los Angeles Lakers showed growth in their win over the rival Boston Celtics
For the majority of 2019-20 season, it’s been smooth sailing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
They have a record of 43-12, they appear to be running away in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and they have what many consider the best 1-2 punch in the NBA with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But if there has been one area of weakness for a team that is on pace to win 64 games, it has been on the defensive side of the ball – specifically with the league’s elite wing scorers.
JAYSON TATUM vs Lakers
41 PTS (tied career-high)
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) February 23, 2020
To be clear, the Lakers have a top-5 defense in the NBA. They have elite rim protection due to Davis, Dwight Howard, and JaVale McGee’s length.
But their lack of length on the perimeter has reared its ugly head in big games this season against the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, when they were unable to slow down Kawhi Leonard and Jayson Tatum
Going into yesterday’s game against the Celtics, the Lakers were 0-3 against Boston and the Clippers, and a large reason why was their inability to contain the dynamic wings on both rosters.
But even with Tatum scoring a career high 41 points, the Lakers were still able to come out victorious because of the late game brilliance of James and some clutch defensive stops at the end of regulation.
😤👑 @KingJames is CLUTCH
— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) February 23, 2020
Tatum entered the fourth quarter with 37 points, but was held to just four in the final quarter, after the Lakers sent more traps at him, potentially unlocking a new way to guard bigger wings going forward.
🎥 AD talks about the Lakers' 4th quarter adjustments and KCP's defensive impact down the stretch. pic.twitter.com/9T4qhNfqGu
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 24, 2020
And now, there is more defensive help on the way for the Lakers, which should help alleviate some of their struggles guarding small forwards.
Markieff Morris has cleared waivers, league sources say. He's a Laker
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 23, 2020
At 6’8’’, Markieff Morris is shooting 39.7% from 3 this season, and gives the Lakers the chance to have some more versatility and spacing offensively without losing size defensively in certain lineups.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 24, 2020
The addition of Markieff Morris will allow Kyle Kuzma to slide into his natural position of small forward with the Lakers second unit, which will help increase their length at that position when guarding players in the Leonard and Tatum archetype.
For as polarizing as Kuzma has been this season for the Lakers, he was probably the most successful at sticking Tatum on Sunday.
Kyle Kuzma really rose to the challenge against a blistering Jayson Tatum.
The adjustment to hit Tatum with Kuz and double-teams swung the game for the Lakers. pic.twitter.com/a47TUtuvBD
— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 24, 2020
Sunday’s win over the Celtics wasn’t perfect, but it was a win that revealed a formula that might be replicable down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.
That formula reads 1) get timely stops and 2) let James close the show.
We are back fresh off LeBron hitting the game winner vs the Celtics… https://t.co/jzXFzPIPyt
— nick wright (@getnickwright) February 24, 2020
It’s one win, but it could be a needle-moving win for the Lakers, who matchup with the Clippers twice more this season and will have a chance to deploy a new defensive look at Leonard before a much-anticipated potential playoff showdown.
On March 8, we’ll see if the Lakers can contain Leonard in their third matchup of the season.
Or maybe we’ll see if they can overcome not being able to contain him, which might prove just as important.