EL SEGUNDO — When the Lakers gathered this week for their first official meeting as a team, Luke Walton and the coaching staff stressed playing with a certain mentality. A Lakers mentality.
“Basically,” Lonzo Ball said, “they said it starts with defense. Defensive grit. Challenge one another and then go on the court and make people fear you.”
Defense? The Lakers are a team built on young offensive talents. Ball has been billed as a transcendent playmaker with shades of Magic Johnson, while Brandon Ingram is supposedly poised to take a leap into scoring stardom.
On its face, “grit” is the antithesis of the “Showtime” brand the Lakers are trying to resurrect. But with the focus of a new season centered squarely on Ball and his ability to help attract a certain Eastern Conference immortal to L.A., it might be easy to forget how grueling and unglamorous incremental growth can actually be.
The Lakers have ranked in the bottom three in defensive efficiency for the past four seasons. Last year, the 110.6 points per game they allowed per 100 possessions were 30th in the league – the second straight year they ranked dead last in the category.
Given that, there was really only one place for Walton and the Lakers to start with Tuesday’s practice.
“Two hours of defense,” Ball said.
The supersonic offense, with highlight-worthy lobs and a cloudburst of 3-pointers, comes later.
“The focuses of today’s practice were individual defense first, team defense second, then transition defense and finishing rebounds,” Walton said. “You’ve got to end every possession by finishing it off.”
Tuesday marked the first of three days of two-a-day practices. Walton said the evening session would focus on conditioning or, as he put it, “fun running.”
In the offseason, the Lakers added shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who immediately became the best perimeter defender on a team desperate for help. The organization is hoping some of that will rub…