With All-NBA performers LeBron James and Anthony Davis as their anchors last season, the Los Angeles Lakers were frequently identified as an offensive force en route to the NBA title.
But when the Lakers were at their very best, it was their defense that provided the foundation for their greatestsuccess. An urgency to revisit their defensive might was central to the Lakers' 120-102 win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, the first of consecutive games at Toyota Center.
The Rockets will host the Lakers again on Tuesday.
The Lakers limited the Rockets to 41.1 percent shooting, forced Houston into a season-high 21 turnovers and amassed 13 steals with eight blocked shots. The return of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Davis to the starting lineup following injury hiatuses helped their cause.
"That whole first group set a tone defensively," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "Getting KCP back ... he had three forced turnovers in the first few minutes (and) got out on the break. AD was really good, the whole group was good in that quarter and set a tone for the whole night."
Davis was especially effective defending the rim, matching his season high of three blocks. His defensive performance was easy to overlook after Davis started 9 of 9 from the floor before finishing with a game-high 27 points, but from his perspective, the pregame emphasis was clear.
"We've got a lot of guys who are really good defensively and we know how good we can be and how good we want to be, and it wasn't showing in the previous games," Davis said. "We came out very aggressive defensively ... just being more active with our hands, being more active with our bodies. We just wanted to dig in a little deeper on the defensive end and make sure that we start picking up the defensive intensity and start being the defensive team we know we can be."
The Lakers rank third in defensive efficiency so, to an extent, a long night at the office is expected when Los Angeles is the opponent. Still, the Rockets' erratic play fed into the Lakers' objective, with Houston allowing 30 points off turnovers and, relatedly, 32 points in transition.
The Rockets' 3-point shooting woes -- Houston ranks 24th in the NBA at 34.3 percent -- are quite clearly contributing to their offensive struggles. What undermined the Rockets against the Lakers was an inability, or unwillingness, to recover defensively when they missed shots.
The Rockets missed 29 of its 41 3-pointers against the Lakers, numbers that might prove costly if they are repeated against the Lakers' stifling defense on Tuesday.
"The transition defense obviously was not good at all," Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. "They were leaking out as soon as we shot the ball and we weren't rotating back, and that's something that we definitely have to correct. I don't know if that's feeling sorry for ourselves or whatever, but we've just got to get back (defensively). There's no talent in transition defense, it's effort and recognition as far as knowing that after the shot is raised we're getting back."
--Field Level Media