LeBron’s faith in Lakers defense intact despite Dubs beating

Dave McMenaminESPN WriterMay 5, 2023, 2:38 a.m. ET4 minute read

LeBron confident Lakers defense can bounce back from Game 2 loss

LeBron James credits the Warriors for playing well in Game 2, but says he’s still confident in the Lakers defense moving forward.

SAN FRANCISCO — The Los Angeles Lakers face a Golden State Warriors team that hit 42 3-pointers in the first two games of their second-round series, setting a league record for most 3-pointers by any which team in the first two games of a knockout round.

They’re trying to stop a Warriors team that, in Thursday’s 127-100 Game 2 win, had not one, but two 40-point quarterbacks – the first time this has happened in the history of franchise. And for a team that has won four championships in the past eight seasons, that’s saying something.

They are trying to thwart the best shooting zone ever assembled, with the two future Hall of Famers locked in with Klay Thompson scoring 30 points in three quarters of 8 for 11 shooting from 3 and Stephen Curry finishing with 20 points and 12 assists for even the series.

Despite the challenge, LeBron James said the Lakers — who turned their season around after the trade deadline by beefing up their defense — won’t drop their defensive standards because of the opponent.

“We’re still the best defensive team in the league, if not one of them,” James said. “So that doesn’t change. That’s what we hang our hats on. … It doesn’t stop no matter who we play against.”

Even with the Warriors’ explosive night, LA still has the second-highest defensive rating among the eight remaining playoff teams, allowing 106.5 points per 100 possessions. Only the New York Knicks do better (105.9).

But Thursday was a disappointment, obviously.

LA led by seven after the first quarter, with James scoring 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting.

And then the wheels came off.

Golden State bombarded the Lakers in the second and third quarters, outscoring them 84-47.

In 32 quarters of basketball this postseason before Game 2 — between the playoff against Minnesota, the first-round series against Memphis, and the Lakers’ Game 1 win over Golden State — LA had none allowed 40 only once. Then it happened in consecutive quarters.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, with his team down 30 to start the fourth, pulled his starters and ended the game by giving Tristan Thompson, Shaquille Harrison and rookie Max Christie a few minutes off his bench. .

James said the Lakers offense will be key to staying in touch with the Warriors when their shooters get hot.

“You have to keep scoring, get to the free throw line as well, or just get points in the paint,” James said. “They’re going to run. That’s what they do. But you have to keep scoring, try to hold the fort.”

LA had just nine free throw attempts in the first three quarters after hitting the line 29 times in Game 1.

“I think they did a good job cluttering the paint and not allowing us, trying to stop us from playing downhill so much,” Ham said. “That in turn affects what we do at the free-throw line.”

There was also a significant drop for Anthony Davis, who was 11-for-5 for 11 shooting after 30-for-11 for 19 in Game 1.

“I took all the same shots I took in game one. I just missed them,” Davis said. “Elbow jumpers. Pocket passes to the floater. Exact same look. Didn’t take any shots I didn’t take in Game 1. I just missed them. That’s it.”

It was a story similar to Davis’ ebb and flow against the Grizzlies, when every time he scored 20 or more points in a game, he scored 16 points or less.

“We’ll be better. I’ll be better making those shots,” Davis said. “We’ll go home to our floor and try to mind our business.”

Even with the loss, LA is 15-5 in its last 20 games dating back to mid-March. And these Lakers have lost consecutive games only once since their roster was overhauled with multiple trades at the deadline.

They host Game 3 on Saturday at Crypto.com Arena, where they are 4-0 in the playoffs.

“I expect our team to respond in the right way,” Ham said.

But there’s no denying what the Warriors are capable of.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Ham said. “You don’t get to this stage of the season being easy.”

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