Lakers finish regular season with No. 1 ranked defense

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In a season plagued by injuries to superstars and imperative role players, including missed games because of health and safety protocols, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to attain the top spot in a stalwart category.

With the 72-game regular season officially in the books, the Lakers have finished the campaign holding the league’s best defense, ranking first in team defensive rating.

Los Angeles’ defensive rating of 106.8 narrowly edged over the Philadelphia 76ers’ mark of 107.0, a team that started closing the gap on L.A. as the season came to a close.

What stands out most about this achievement is the manner in which they obtained it. Anthony Davis missed 36 games, equivalent to half of the season. LeBron James had some overlapped missed games with Davis, absent from 27 total contests, the most in his career.

Dennis Schroder also missed 11 games, chiefly because of health and safety protocols, and the timing of those omissions stemmed from games when one of either James or Davis weren’t available, straining the load on head coach Frank Vogel’s hands.

Alex Caruso, one of Los Angeles’ best defenders off the bench, missed 14 games. The list only persists from there, but the bottom line is the Lakers achieved this with minimal continuity.

Whether Vogel receives recognition for his role in this is ambiguous, but he and the coaching staff deserve laudation for keeping the defensive chemistry intact, bestowing the Lakers a fighting chance when their offense faltered because of these setbacks.

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The last time Los Angeles finished with the league’s premier defense came in the 1999-00 season. That year, the Lakers registered a defensive rating of 96.4 with a roster starring Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Rice and Ron Harper, among others.

The Lakers also went on to win the NBA Championship that year, for what it’s worth.