I went into this recap with a plan.
After Darius and I recorded our podcast last night, we had a chat about me doing more written recaps, at least for the home games. He provided some words of wisdom, my creative juices got flowing, and I found my angle. Instead of writing a conventional recap, I was going to process the technical details of the game in real time, and then share them with you.
That’s mostly pointless when the team doesn’t play hard.
The wheels came off shortly after a 10-0 Lakers run to begin the game, as one-pass possessions on the offensive end turned into token efforts on the defensive end. This was particularly disastrous against a team that is led by a player as indomitable as Russell Westbrook, who will (and did) continue attacking the opposition, no matter how lifeless they may be. Terrance Ferguson carried that spirit into garbage time, posting a string of 4th quarter highlights that entertained the Staples Center crowd more than anyone has in weeks. The final buzzer mercifully ended the night with the Lakers on the wrong end of a 133-96 defeat.
There has been a staggering decline in the Lakers’ defensive performance as of late, and they have posted a 115.8 Defensive Rating during their 8-game losing streak. To put that into context, the Sacramento Kings have the worst Defensive Rating throughout the entire season, at 110.7. I asked Head Coach Luke Walton if this game felt like an outlier from an effort perspective, or if he’s been seeing signs of this in other games.
“This one felt different. This one…doesn’t sit well with me.”, Walton replied.
Oklahoma City took full advantage by turning their two-man game into a three-man show. Much of what the Thunder do is predicated on creating space for their stars to operate, which is usually achieved through Spread Pick & Rolls for Westbrook (a Billy Donovan favorite all the way back to his days at Florida), Iverson Cuts for Paul George, and high post isolations for Carmelo Anthony, although he is increasingly more involved as a spot up shooter. This has resulted in a league-low 259.8 passes per game, but it worked to perfection against the Lakers.
But the methods don’t really matter right now. This team was built upon the premise of improving the culture via the promise of competitive spirit. They aren’t living up to it.
Up Next: Friday vs. the Charlotte Hornets at 7:30pm PST, on Spectrum SportsNet.