After a thorough 108-79 Lakers victory over Detroit that starkly contrasted an 0-3 start to the season, Monday afternoon’s practice was primarily about watching film of what worked so well and hammering home a few concepts.
“I thought our readiness to play on both ends of the floor was pretty good,” summarized coach Mike Brown. “The one thing that’s been plaguing us is our ability to give up second-chance points on very few offensive rebounds … I felt like we played defense the right way and for the first time, or as close to as 48 minutes as possible, we executed our offense the right way.”
His players out-boarded the Pistons 46-33, conceding 13 offensive boards in part because the Pistons struggled to hit shots (35 percent); few turned into baskets. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard turned in his best defensive effort as he continues to get into game shape.
Howard said that he’s certainly feeling stronger with each game, but he’s nowhere near peak condition. While his reaction time continues to improve on D, he hasn’t missed a beat on the other end, with a field goal percentage of 68.8 percent. The three-time Defensive POY missed only two of the 14 shots he attempted on Sunday towards a game-high 28 points, upping his season average to 23.3 per game.
“He’s not 100 percent,” added Brown. “Last night, it was the closest that I had seen him in terms of him being ready defensively. There have been some things that have happened with him involved on the defensive end of the floor, I’ve never seen it happen to him. And it’s a product of the process of him getting back from not playing in 8-9 months and coming off of back surgery. But last night, you saw some flashes of the ‘old Dwight’ on both ends of the floor, which was a good thing.”
Meanwhile, Howard’s frontcourt partner Pau Gasol was aggressive early against Detroit’s front line, the two bigs combining for 21 of the team’s first 25 points, opening a double-digit lead that would never be threatened.
“We called our bigs’ number early on, but sometimes, we didn’t run the action that we called because they took this away and that away,” Brown continued. “It was good to see us try to go through the bigs early on and everybody responding the right way with the right spacing … it was great to see us execute offensively overall.”
To Brown, it was important to secure a victory to ensure that the group continues to buy into the process.
“It was a thing to help us to continue to believe,” he explained. “As a group, our guys were pretty determined and I already told them going into this: ‘It’s not going to be easy. It’s a process.’ But we got to make sure we handle the adversity we face the right way, and it’s going to make us stronger later when we’re in a tough seven-game series and we drop two in a row.”
Most NBA teams have played only three games, but in that small sample size the Lakers are shooting an impressive 50.3 percent from the field, second only to defending champ Miami’s 51.1 percent. The purple and gold are also connecting on 40.6 percent of three-pointers, many of which have been wide open looks. Last year, the Lakers shot 45.7 percent from the field (7th) and 32.6 percent from three (26th).
The hybrid Princeton offensive sets mixed into what Brown had the Lakers doing last season is creating myriad wide open shots around the court, shown not just through Howard’s outstanding percentage inside but also Kobe Bryant’s nearly 59.7 percent shooting from all over the court.
“With what we’re doing offensively in terms of the spacing and the movement has really helped (Bryant) as well as everybody else,” said coach Mike Brown. “We don’t really know what we’re doing quite yet, to a certain degree, but if you watch us play, guys are scoring fairly easily. It hasn’t been a struggle (except) when we’re turning the ball over, and most of the turnovers that we’re making are the right play, they’re just a half a count too late.
“So now when we have two or three of those turnovers in four or five possessions, it looks like we don’t know what the heck we’re doing. But look at our statistics across the board, and that’s with 100 turnovers in four games. We’re not even giving ourselves a chance to score, and our offensive numbers are off the charts, way better than last year. If you’re watching the game, you can see that the ball movement is better, the spacing is better, guys are scoring easier, guys are playing together.”