The Los Angeles Lakers are still trying to find their new team identity following roster changes that came about during the offseason.
Free agency moves affected L.A.’s frontcourt significantly with two-defensive minded centers, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, leaving the defending NBA champions. Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol replaced the two big men, bringing in a much diverse skillset at the 5 position.
Some worried the Lakers would lose their edge on the defensive end of the floor facilitated by the size advantage that McGee and Howard provided alongside Anthony Davis. L.A. has seen a decline in blocked shots from last season.
They additionally have struggled with paint protection, which was a strong suit with McGee and Howard on the roster.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel nonetheless remains confident in the new-look frontcourt. “I think we’re a little bit different with Marc and Trezz, but both take pride in protecting the rim and give us different dynamics on the offensive side of the ball,” Vogel recently said.
“Different doesn’t have to mean better or worse, but I really love what Marc and Trezz are bringing to the table for us.”
Vogel added L.A. is “trying to be a better basketball team” than they were last season when they claimed the franchise’s 17th NBA title in the Orlando bubble. But several teams upgraded their rosters in the offseason, including the Philadelphia 76ers, who dealt the Lakers their first road loss of the season.
Joel Embiid continued his MVP-worthy form and ended the night with 28 points, six rebounds and four assists. But Davis thinks the center’s display was not facilitated by a potential size advantage over the Lakers. “He had 13 free throws,” Davis pointed out.
“We take those away, knowing that he likes to sweep through and get fouls, knowing that he’s looking for contact to get to the free throw line. If we take those away and limit those to maybe five, I think we did a pretty good job with our hands stripping down on him, making him take tough shots, getting steals.”
Davis said L.A. has what it takes to beat teams that thrive in the paint, such as Philadelphia, should they face them in the postseason. “I think our lineup and group that we have is very capable of beating this team in a seven-game series,” he said.
Vogel: Lakers improved defense against Embiid as game went on
Embiid headed to the free throw line multiple times in the first half of the win over the Lakers as the 76ers stretched their advantage to a 16-point lead before halftime. But Vogel praised his players for the way they adjusted their coverage of the 26-year-old superstar after the break, limiting contact the skillful center had been exploiting.
“That’s where it starts with him,” Vogel said. “He’s a unique player. We didn’t face him last year. He’s got a lot of tricks, is shifty, and very difficult to defend without fouling. We didn’t do a good enough job in the first half but got better as the game went along.”
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