Julius Randle recorded a double-double, Luol Deng scored a season high 22 points and made 5-8 from three, Nick Young scored 15 points in 20 minutes and Lou Williams scored 24 points in 26 minutes off the bench, but the Los Angeles Lakers still somehow walked away losers on Sunday night against the New York Knicks.
How does a team that scores 112 points at home manage to lose?
"Defense," Lakers coach Luke Walton only said one word when asked what stood out to him after Sunday's 118-112 defeat, which was the Lakers' sixth in a row. "We played well enough offensively to win. We score 112 points at home, that should be a win."
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"It's tough to win when we can't get stops," Walton sounded as frustrated as he's been since taking the Lakers' job but still managed to relay that he had not yet lost hope. "I won't say that we can't get stops because we can get stops."
The coach corrected himself, "It's tough to win when we don't get stops."
Derrick Rose started the game by making all five of his shots in the first quarter, and Walton didn't seem impressed with his team's response, or lack thereof. First, he said the players needed to be more aware of the game plan and the defensive schemes.
"A lot of it is individual challenge," Walton continued to express his frustrations by calling out his players, without naming names. "It's taking pride in not letting the guy you're guarding get past you."
Over the current six-game losing streak, LA's opponents are averaging an unnerving 115.7 points per game. In terms of advanced statistics, the Lakers rank 30th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 109.7 for teh season, meaning the Lakers allow 109.7 points per 100 possessions. That's dead last in the NBA.
"I don't think it's gotten worse; it's stayed pretty similar," Walton said about the team's defense before explaining the reason for the lack of resistance. "But honestly, it's hard once the season gets going because between the injuries and the schedule, you don't really have a lot of practice time. And that's what we need. We need reps and reps and reps and reps. It's the only way to break habits."
Walton explained that the Lakers' defensive woes go beyond the current losing streak and even beyond the current season: "We haven't been a good defensive team for the last few years, so you add that with the fact that we have a new team and a new staff and new concepts, and we're putting all that out there and we're getting the effort, but then, if we're lucky we can get two solid practices in a week."
The Lakers' coach continued, "It's tough to get the amount of reps that we really need to in the practice. So, a lot of the reps we're getting are literally happening in a game, which is still getting reps at it, so we still should get better at it, and we will."
Optimism, though, could not mask reality, and Walton concluded honestly, "It just hasn't happened yet."