EL SEGUNDO — When Lakers coach Darvin Ham changed his team’s starting lineup before Saturday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, replacing guard D’Angelo Russell with forward Jarred Vanderbilt, he ‘did in the hope that it would further strengthen their defense.
This has yet to materialize in the two games where the new starting group (Vanderbilt, LeBron James, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish and Anthony Davis) have shared the court.
The Lakers (16-15) enter Thursday night’s home game against the Charlotte Hornets (7-21) having won back-to-back games in which their opponents have scored at least 120 points.
The Thunder had an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 122.4 against the Lakers while the Boston Celtics had an offensive rating of 128.6 in their Christmas victory against the Lakers on Monday afternoon. As a reminder, the Indiana Pacers entered Wednesday with the league’s best offensive rating of 121.8.
“We just have to buckle down defensively,” Anthony Davis said after the home loss to the Celtics. “We’re not really a changing team, but now we’re getting there because of our roster. We are capable of doing it. There is a communication problem. Offensively, it can be okay. But we have to do a better job on defense.
The new defensive-oriented starting lineup hasn’t helped in this area, with a defensive rating of 125 in 18 minutes since the starting lineup change.
The Lakers have particularly struggled with their transition defense as of late.
“A lot of it was communication,” Vanderbilt said after Wednesday’s practice. “And part of it is we kind of changed the whole defense without coaching, which is tough. So we went out there and tried to figure it out throughout the game.
“But like I said, this practice was good practice. That’s kind of what we needed to sort things out and start to get back on the same page and have some chemistry.
Ham echoed Davis and Vanderbilt on the need to clean up communication.
“That’s the only thing that can stop us from maximizing what we have on the field is lack of communication,” Ham said. “It starts with transition. We have crossover matches, guys communicating where the help is and when the shot is going up, just taking hits and trying to defend and support each other.
“Communication is the basis of everything.”
Although no official announcement was made Wednesday night, Ham discussed reserve guard Gabe Vincent’s pending knee surgery, which is expected to keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks.
“It’s definitely an impact,” Ham said. “But on the other hand, we’re happy that now this is going to be a huge light at the end of the tunnel, as far as cleaning up his stuff. We’re going to monitor him, look after him and prepare for a significant contribution once that it will be authorized.
Vincent confirmed to the Southern California News Group on Monday that he will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. He was unavailable for the games against the Celtics and Thunder due to a left knee effusion (swollen joint) that kept him sidelined for seven weeks.
Before returning to the lineup in last Wednesday’s road loss to the Chicago Bulls, Vincent was limited to just four games. He missed the previous 24 (including the in-season tournament championship game which did not count in the standings).
“I told him in OKC you gotta do what you gotta do man so you can put this behind you and that’s the most important thing,” Ham said. “Trying to deal with it and doing different things, having these little micro-setbacks, it feels like it’s too much. So the fact that we can move forward and alleviate this problem and put it behind us, it’s great for him, great for us.
HORNETS IN THE LAKERS
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Or: Crypto.com Arena
Television/Radio: Spectrum SportsNet, 7:10 a.m.
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