A high-octane pace has fueled the Lakers’ winning streak

Editor’s note: This is the Monday, January 9, edition of the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

The last time the Lakers won five straight games was in May 2021. Might as well drink it in while you can, fans – you never know how long the hot streak will last:


Monday, W, Lakers 121, Charlotte Hornets 115
Wednesday, W, Lakers 112, Miami 109
Friday, W, Lakers 130, Atlanta 114
Saturday, W, Lakers 136, Sacramento 134

As of Monday morning, the Lakers (19-21) are 11th place in the Western Conference standings, and they are 7.5 games behind the first-place Denver Nuggets (26-13). They’re a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers (19-20) for a play-in slot and one game(!!!) behind the Golden State Warriors (20-20) for a top-6 spot.

HIGH POINT: There were a few gutsy wins in the past week, but the topper was probably beating the Kings on the road, preventing Sacramento from lighting their beloved beam. Four Lakers had at least 20 points, led by LeBron James with 37. Russell Westbrook said it was more important to beat the Kings, who had won the first two games of the series, than to extend the winning streak to five straight: “For me, going intolast year, they beat us too many times.” The Kings were the fourth opponent in as many games the Lakers beat in a rematch after less than three weeks, showing some positive feedback on their improvement process.

LOW POINT: There was not a game that was a low point for the Lakers, but Friday’s injury news bore unwelcome tidings: The team is likely without Lonnie Walker IV and Austin Reaves for the next week or two. Troy Brown Jr. has missed the last five halves with a quad injury. The Lakers have been winning in spite of their challenges in their lineup, but facing tough Denver, Dallas and Philadelphia teams in thecoming week, at some point the attrition is going to hurt them.

TRENDING TOPIC: How are the Lakers able to win small, without Anthony Davis and three of their key wings/bigger guards? The secret sauce here isn’t really secret: It’s the transition game.

In the last five games, the Lakers have been the fastest-paced team in the NBA, according to NBA data. While their fastbreak points per game (17.2) are relatively on par with their season average, notably the Lakers have also gotten back in transition – their fast break points allowed (14.6 ppg) have dropped in the last five (10.6 ppg) so they’re winning the possessions when the ball is moving up and down.

The fastbreak game is magical for this team in particular: It neutralizes some of their size deficiencies when facing set defenses; it is where LeBron and Russ play best together; it gives the guards a chance tomake plays on defense to stop other teams from getting back. The Lakers are understandably average in halfcourt offense relative to the league, but stat site Cleaning the Glass ranks them fourth in transition points per 100 possessions (119.3) in the league since Davis got hurt. Against the Hawks, the Lakers had 22 fast break points in the first half alone.

“The best offense is when the defense is not set,” Jame said. “So if you ever get stops and you’re able to get out and run, or you’re able to create turnovers, or you’re able to get out and get up the floor before the defense is set, you’re gonna have a numbers game. So I think we bought into that.”

In the past five games, the Lakers have also bought into rebounding: Their rebounding percentage (52.8%) is fifth-best in the league during the winning streak, unlocking their fierce transition attack. It will be something to watch in the coming week: Dallas and Philadelphia have some of the lowest offensive rebounding rates in the league, and if the Lakers can attack off of rebounds the way they have been, it should give them a chance against two of the tougher teams in the league.

“Our guys are running because they know they’re gonna get the ball and they know those opportunities with those running habits are gonna open up lanes,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “If we stay disciplined and we’re getting guys to the corner, those lanes between the lane line and sideline, they’re gonna be open. The little space between the nail and the elbow, those are gonna be open.”

READ OF THE WEEK: Over the weekend, I took a look at what Thomas Bryant has done as a fill-in starter. He’s only been one of the most efficient shooting big men in the NBA.

HEATING UP: The Lakers wouldn’t have won Wednesday against the Miami Heat without a 32-point performance from Dennis Schröder, who played through getting swatted in the face and twisting his ankle. In the last week, he’s reminded Lakers fans why the franchise once seemed positioned to offer him a huge contract: He averaged 23.8 points in the last four games, while shooting 14 for 23 on threes and taking a team-high 31 free throws (and making 27).

COOLING DOWN: It’s tough to throw darts at a guy while he’s not playing, but the Lakers’ success in the last week hasn’t reflected well on Lonnie Walker IV. Looking at the 13-game stretch without Davis, Walker had a plus-minus of minus-54 in his 223 minutes. His defensive holes have become more evident without Davis backing him up. The Lakers have made it work with smaller guards in the rotation in the last five wins. Is Walker actually as essential to the team’s success as it once seemed he was?

INJURY REPORT: Just in time for Monday, ESPN was first to report that Davis will begin the ramp-up process to return this week. It’s a lighter, home-heavy schedule for the rest of the month, giving Davis some time to do conditioning in L.A. before an East Coast trip that begins Jan. 28. It’s unclear exactly when he’ll come back, but it would be great for the Lakers to get him before Boston. The timeline for Troy Brown Jr. (left quad strain) is still short-term, but as mentioned above, he hasn’t played since Wednesday. Walker IV (left knee tendinitis) and Reaves (left hamstring strain) are still expected to be out this week, though Reaves said in a Spectrum broadcast interview that his hamstring was starting to feel better.

QUOTABLE: On the light-hearted side, Darvin Ham had to check himself when he called 29-year-old Schröder a “lil’ kid” for the second time this past week: “I got to stop calling him a kid. He’s got three kids. Married with children. So, little Al Bundy. He’s tough. I’m dating myself. Anybody know who Al Bundy is? I had to check.”

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: The Lakers have faced some All-Star big men in the last week in Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis. But it’s worth wondering how they’ll handle Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid in the coming week without Davis. Davis only played a half in the last win against the Nuggets – Bryant played well down the stretch. But with Bryant, Wenyen Gabriel and Juan Toscano-Anderson functioning as the main bigs at the moment, the Lakers are extremely limited in the looks they can give opposing centers.

COMING UP (All times PT)

Monday, at Denver, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Dallas, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Sunday, Philadelphia, 6:30 p.m. (NBA TV)

– Kyle Goon

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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