SACRAMENTO, California – This game hasn't started yet and LeBron James can feel a throbbing headache which he can only guess comes from the smoke that surrounds downtown Sacramento and the mist floating inside the Golden 1 Center.
The smell of smoke in the arena during the morning team shot, James was not sure how the conditions of Api Camp originating about 70 miles north of Sacramento would affect the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.
But the Lakers have recently become a team that seems to be learning how to deal with difficulties. Or maybe they found a way to deal with it better.
Smoke from a raging fire in Butte County, California, billowed into downtown Sacramento and was seen on the field at the Golden Center 1.
The veteran center made a direct impact on the Lakers defense and rebounded only a day after arriving from Phoenix.
With the exception of perhaps the worst first quarter the Lakers have played which caused terrible losses against the Toronto Raptors last Sunday, the team has won four of its last five matches. The Lakers put the brakes on the Sacramento Kings team which had won seven of their last 10 matches with an impressive 101-86 victory.
And for the first time in the era of the James Lakers, the Lakers reached 0.500.
Maybe this feels like a significant improvement since the Lakers (6-6) lost five of their first seven matches and the sky felt as if they were just a little more than a week ago.
The Lakers are already expected to have a potentially rocky start, but no one counts on Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram drawing several game suspensions for the Houston Rockets fight only two games into the season or Magic Johnson nagging Luke Walton after just seven matches. Walton found himself hit by oversight of the safety of his work until Johnson left and said his coach was safe forbidding something drastic.
But after all turbulence, the Lakers may approach 35,000 feet and "cruising altitude." Could things be stable? No doubt there will be more drama in the future for the Lakers because of this LeBron and that L.A. But this victory in Sacramento is a sure sign of progress.
Do not look further than the defense effort. A few days ago, Johnson, the president of Lakers basketball operations, expressed his displeasure by explaining that part of his meeting with Walton was because "we are defending. We must be better."
Entering Saturday, the Lakers have given up 110 plus points in each of their first 11 matches, tied for the longest streak in franchise history to start the season (1961-62). It was the longest run by any team to start the season from 1983-1984, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
But facing the King team which increased No. 1 at speed at 109.0, the Lakers managed to slow down Sacramento at the time and close the Kings in half court. According to the Second Spectrum, Walton's defense held Sacramento until 24.7 percent shot on half the field, the best by any team in any regular season or playoff match over the past five seasons.
|Lakers (ranking)||Before October 30||Since 30 October|
|W-L||2-5 (T-20)||4-1 (T-4th)|
|Die. Eff.||113,0 (7)||105.8 (18)|
|Def. Eff.||113.2 (23)||103,1 (5)|
|Opp. FTA level||0,292 (21)||.178 (1)|
The Lakers have stressed limiting the fast resting point for the past few days and the team heard the coaching staff.
"Have to go back in transition, lose and make, dead ball, everything," James said. "Just have to go back. De & # 39; Aaron Fox is one of the fastest guards we got in our game, and they are in first place at the moment. So we are very stressed to go back and put a lot of bodies in front of them all. "
"We stick to the game plan for 48 minutes," James added. "And we've been doing it lately, and that has resulted in victory."
Several factors have contributed to the Lakers' uptick in playing. Their chemistry seems to be formed now that they are 12 matches this season. Of course, young players like Ingram and Lonzo Ball still looks like looking for a comfort zone with a better list. And veterinarians like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson are still struggling to adjust to their fluctuating playing time.
Lonzo Ball is very bad on floaters, jumpers, and short 3-pointers.
But after playing with formation and rotation, Walton increasingly felt better for which group worked best together, and the Lakers became more comfortable with each other.
"We're just in tune," said forward Kyle Kuzma, who looked more comfortable in the starting line and didn't have to play as a reserve center. "We knew the game plan and everyone followed it and we had each other's backs. There was when I was in an ISO with De & # 39; Aaron Fox and I knew Rondo was on my left side and he gave me confidence. So wake up chemistry will help.
"Toronto's game is like kicking us in the ass, but we have to take it day after day, game after game and I think that's what we do for the most part and you can see it with chemical buildings."
Another significant factor is the addition of the Tyson Chandler center. Like the Magic no-look pass, you might not see Chandler's purchase and signing with the Lakers coming – especially this early in the season. But the results so far have been extraordinary.
Chandler seems to be very suitable for what the Lakers need – a backup center that does a lot of things provided by JaVale McGee. He provides rim protectors, lob options from pick-and-rolls, crackling screens, championship experiences, Rondo and James-like communication skills and the presence of soothing veterans in the dressing room.
Before Chandler's arrival, Walton had to go with McGee on the bench by placing Kuzma in the middle or two Johnathan Williams contract players or going to the raw Ivica Zubac. Now he owns Chandler, who won 12 rebounds and helped limit Willie Cauley-Stein to 12 points and 12 rebounds a game after helping keep Karl-Anthony Towns 13 points and nine rebounds in a win over Minnesota.
"He just opened our front yard," James said. "We have 1-2 great shots on JaVale and Tyson. JaVale gave us so much to start the match with his ability to protect the rim and also very efficiently offensively. And when he got out of the game we did not have no decline, no decline. And Tyson came and he brought more intensity. And it was amazing to have it in front of us. "
Limiting Sacramento to 34.8 percent shooting and outscoring Kings 52-38 in paint, the Lakers really had to exhale in the fourth quarter for once with a double-digit lead. Even though they had a 20-point sliced pillow up to 10 with 4:45 left, the Lakers never let it slip further. It was a step forward after they had to survive well against the Dallas Mavericks, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers in three previous victories.
"This is progress," Walton said. "I have said it all the time. Can't win the game at first but keep them all close and then get direction and can't hold them back but finding a way to win is still final. Tonight is the first time we really lead and hold that leadership .
"We know it will never be a straight line where we will go. We will face more difficulties, but as long as we continue to work as a group to get better, we will be fine."
At the end of the game, James's headache was long gone and he could be heard laughing with Ball and chatting with Rondo in the dressing room.
Rajon Rondo pushed the upcourt ball and qualified for Kyle Kuzma, who finished a quick break with dunk.
By rebuilding the Atlanta Hawks in Los Angeles for the second Lakers from a road-and-home back-to-back set, James knew his team was unable to fall into the trap of not appearing as early as Sunday under the same conditions against Toronto.
But this Lakers team played better than a week ago. And it's the perfect medicine for every James headache.
"The record will speak for itself clearly, but in the end, it's about how you played at the time," James said when asked about the Lakers reaching 0.500. "And now, we play the ball both offensively and defensively."