Considering their abbreviated offseason, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are doing just fine. While their Finals opponents, the Miami Heat, have struggled to a 3-4 record to start the 2020-21 season, the Lakers have six wins, tied for the most in the Western Conference.
It’s no surprise that the Lakers are easing their way into the season. MVP candidates LeBron James and Anthony Davis are playing fewer minutes and scoring less. Head coach Frank Vogel is trying to figure out how new pieces Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews fit in while trying to find a role for emerging rotation player Talen Horton-Tucker. So Thursday’s 118-109 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, in which the Lakers never led and trailed by as many as 15 points in the first quarter, could easily be dismissed as an expected bump on the strange road toward a repeat.
Davis, however, didn’t see it that way. The All-Star big man, who rarely shows extreme emotion on the court, knocked over a cart during the game in reaction to his team’s subpar play.
“Just a lot of frustration. I did [knock over the cart],” Davis explained after the loss. “Frustration from our defense tonight. Frustration from me missing two free throws. So, you know, I just walked over and knocked the damn cart over.”
Davis didn’t stop with his sideline display. He relentlessly criticized the Lakers’ defensive effort after the Spurs, who entered the game making 12 3-pointers per game, went 16-for-35 from deep.
“We didn’t play any defense. Our defense was sh– tonight,” Davis said. “We didn’t play one lick of defense and them guys did whatever they wanted. They came into this game comfortable … We never played defense from the opening tip to the final buzzer. That’s why we lost.”
According to Davis, this wasn’t a one-off occurrence. He said that the Lakers defense hasn’t consistently been up to their standard and that the communication and effort need to improve.
“Some nights we bring it defensively and some nights we don’t,” Davis said. “We have spurts in the game where we’re pretty good defensively, but for entire 48 minutes on a consistent basis, we haven’t. We know there’s gonna be mistakes, teams are gonna make shots. You’re not gonna be perfect the entire 48. But we’re not executing what we’re supposed to do. Our communication has been terrible, I think so, for the first nine games that we’ve played. We gotta be way better defensively if we want to have a chance to defend our title.”There’s no excuse for that. Defense isn’t about schemes or things like that. It’s about energy and effort. It takes nothing to leave it on the defensive end. You can’t control on the offensive end if shots go in or not, but defensively you can control how hard you play.”
Davis went on to specify his criticism, saying that the Lakers are generally good defensively for the first 10-15 seconds of the shot clock, but they fail to continue the effort for the full possession, which leads to open shots or penetration. The Lakers did a particularly poor job against Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who went 11-for-18 from the field, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range in Thursday’s win.
You can see what Davis is talking about here, as the Lakers have a breakdown in simple pick-and-pop coverage which leaves Aldridge with a wide-open practice jumper. Note James’ frustration following the bucket.
The Lakers almost suffer the exact same fate on the very next Spurs possession, but Dejounte Murray’s pass is just a bit off, causing Aldridge to bobble the ball. Even with the miscue, he simply swings the ball to DeMar DeRozan, who knocks down a 3-pointer without a defender in sight. This time, it’s Davis’ turn to show his frustration.
It shows a lot about Davis’ development as a leader that he felt the need to publicly call out his teammates after what he felt was an unacceptable defensive performance. It would be easy for him to chalk it up to the shortened offseason or the team’s lack of familiarity given their new players — after all, the Lakers still have the sixth-best defense in the NBA. Instead, he made it clear that this team isn’t going to just coast through the regular season and hope to turn things on come playoff time.
It’s just more proof that the 27-year-old Davis is continuing to develop both on and off the court, as he waits to take over the reins of the franchise if and when LeBron decides to call it a career.
This Post was originally published on cbssports.com