More Parties in L.A.: The Lakers Are on a Tear

Less than a month away from his 34th birthday, James saved his best for last against Gregg Popovich’s crew. He put the finishing touches on the Spurs with one of his now-trademark very deep 3-pointers over the outstretched arms of Rudy Gay, followed by a lefty finish in traffic after a give-and-go with Kyle Kuzma in the final minute. He poured in 20 points in the fourth quarter alone and assisted on seven more, helping erase an eight-point deficit and wrap up a 4-0 homestand.

The win kept the good times rolling in Hollywood. Since losing two straight to drop to 2-5 before Halloween, the Lakers have now won 13 of their past 17 games, evolving past mere watchability to a top-10 position in both winning percentage and net rating. Only the Raptors and the red-hot Thunder have a better record since October 31 than the Lakers, who now sit fifth in the tightly packed Western Conference, just two games behind the first-place Nuggets.

After a rocky start, the Lakers appear to have locked into the kind of groove that James expected when he was preaching patience earlier in the season. And yet, if you look long enough, it’s easy to wonder how exactly this is happening.

Entering the season, the Lakers profiled as a team that would be able to score easily but struggle to get stops, and would try to mitigate its defensive failings by maintaining a quick pace. That’s how things started out. Before veteran point guard Rajon Rondo sustained a broken right hand in mid-November, L.A. ranked ninth in offensive efficiency, 20th in defensive efficiency, and third in both possessions per 48 minutes and average length of offensive possessions. Since Rondo’s injury, though, the team’s performance has inverted.

But the Lakers have transformed on the defensive end. Over their past 10 games, they rank an eye-popping third in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They now sit fourth for the full season in points allowed per possession in the half court, according to Cleaning the Glass, behind only elite defensive outfits from Oklahoma City, Toronto, and Memphis.

The arrival of Tyson Chandler has been a godsend on defense for a team that had no size to speak of behind starter JaVale McGee. The veteran center still boasts the best net rating on the team, with the Lakers allowing a microscopic 93.4 points per 100 possessions when Chandler’s manning the middle; opponents are shooting roughly the same percentage at the rim with Chandler in the area that they do when Anthony Davis or Rudy Gobert is defending, according to NBA.com’s Second Spectrum tracking data.