Improved team defense shows in Wizards' overtime win over Lakers

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Andrew Gillis
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Improved team defense shows in Wizards' overtime win over Lakers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

At times this season, the Wizards’ defense has been, to put it bluntly, a debacle. 

With statistically one of the worst defenses in the league for a chunk of the season, everyone knew the Wizards could score with any team in the league. It was stopping anybody that was the problem. 

Entering Monday’s game at Staples Center, the Wizards ranked 25th in defensive rating and 29th in points allowed. But over the last dozen or so games, that defense has improved dramatically which was certainly evident against LeBron James and the Lakers.

Deni Avdija played strong defense against James down the stretch and forced key stops. Rui Hachimura continued his defensive improvement as a valuable, versatile piece. And when they needed it most, the defense actually lifted up the offense in a thrilling 127-124 overtime win over the defending champions.

“I thought the middle of the second quarter we got a couple of stops, we just couldn’t find anything on the offense end,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We were down by 17 but it felt like 40. I just told the guys, ‘we’ve got to chip away at it and make it respectable headed into half,’ and we did. Then we got some offensive momentum going in that second half, scored 66 points. A lot of good plays.”

After they allowed 63 points in the first half, the Wizards’ defense buckled down and allowed the Lakers just 23 points in the third quarter and 29 in the fourth. 

Benefitted by a Lakers team absent Anthony Davis, the Wizards continued their defensive improvement as a team with significant contributions from Avdija and Hachimura as they dominated the paint and forced 20 turnovers.

Hachimura’s growth on the defensive end has become an increasingly important story for the Wizards, as the second-year pro has shown the ability to guard any player on the court.

“When we want to play small, he can guard bigger players and they have to make a decision,” Brooks said. “When Rui can really lock in, which he has, we can be a better defensive team. It’s not all on him, Russell (Westbrook) has to do his job, Brad, but every team has that one guy that can switch multiple different style of players. Rui can guard a variety of styles of play.”

Of course, it’s not all on Hachimura to play the role of hero. Westbrook has gotten healthier, the team has communicated better 

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“We all got a part in defending, starting with myself, defending and rebounding,” Westbrook said. “That was our biggest letdown, and stopping teams from getting second-chance points. We have been doing a good job of man-ing up.”

The Wizards found their shot in the second half, and paired with a few stops — some of which came from unlikely places — as the offense and defense blended together for a total team victory against the Lakers.

“I stick to the scouting report, we have a great scouting report and our coaches do a great job,” Avdija said of defending James. “Like I said, I’m not afraid of anybody. I’m going to take the challenge every time. For me, I take the player I’m guarding, I’m taking him seriously, equal. Just stepped up, took the challenge, played my defense. He had a hard time, so that’s good”

Tune in to NBC Sports Washington at 9 p.m. on Tuesday for full coverage of the Wizards’ next game against the Los Angeles Clippers.