After using five different starting lineup combinations through the first eight games, coach Mike D’Antoni elected to make another change in the team’s ninth game: insert Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson into the starting unit.
The move has paid off.
In the six games with Hill and Johnson starting, the Lakers have allowed 97.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank seventh in the NBA.
In Sunday’s win against Sacramento, the Lakers conceded just 86 points, a season-low for an opponent. This included a 13-point third quarter in which the Kings shot just 5 for 20 from the floor.
“We’re sticking to our principles a lot, and I think they’re getting to the point where they’re not thinking about things and reacting and sticking to what we’re doing,” D’Antoni said postgame. “They’re just following the game plan really well. The last part is their effort. They want to do it. Because you share the ball on offense and everybody feels good about how they’re playing, that transfers on the defensive end and you have more team energy.”
That energy has been no more evident, particularly over the last four games, where Lakers opponents have failed to top the century mark and teams are averaging 92.3 points and shooting just 43.8 percent shooting and 31.7 percent on three-pointers.
The improvement on the defensive end has also translated to the offensive side, where the Lakers are averaging 106.0 points per 100 possessions in the last six, which would rank fifth in the league. The play of Steve Blake in particular has aided in this marked improvement, as the former Maryland product has reached double-digit assists in five of those games.
“There’s nothing better than being out there and setting up guys for shots,” Blake said postgame. “Coach gives me the freedom to do that and the offense lets you as a point guard create for people, so I’m just loving it right now.”
Despite playing the second-toughest schedule in the league (trailing only Memphis), the Lakers own a three-game winning streak and have won four of their last six. Twelve of their 14 opponents are above the .500 mark, the lone exceptions being Detroit (5-8) and Sacramento (4-9), but even without Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the team has found success on both ends of the floor over the last two weeks.
“The repetitions in practice have gotten us in a good place,” Blake said. “Coach was tinkering with the lineups till he found something that works. We’re at that point now where it’s working, so we’ll stick with it, keep running it and hopefully we can keep being successful.”