Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton was not happy with his team’s performance on the defensive end during their first three games of the 2018 -19 NBA season, and he let them know about it.
According to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, Walton aired out his feelings regarding the team’s poor defense during their Wednesday morning meeting, and didn’t hold back.
“We could feel his anger,” Lakers forward Lance Stephenson said of Walton, via ESPN. “We had to get that W… He came in today very mad. He yelled at us. He told us we’ve got to lock in on defense and play unselfish basketball and get a W.”
And get that W they did.
The Lakers responded to Walton’s emotion by ramping up their defensive intensity, and pulling out their first victory of the season; 131-113 over the Phoenix Suns.
“We talked a lot on defense,” Stephenson said of the team’s performance on Wednesday night. “We watched a lot of film yesterday and today, and Coach was very mad at us, and he got on us about our defense and talking on D on the defensive end, and being very unselfish. So, I mean, we took care of business tonight.”
The win was LeBron James’ first in a Lakers uniform.
“It feels great; it’s a win, period,” James said. “But it feels good for us to know what we’ve been doing over training camp [and] in these first few games to continue to get better… We’re very talented offensively. But I think it’s always going to start with our defense.”
In addition to being unhappy with his team’s defense through three games, Walton was also unhappy with the officiating, as he called out the referees after the Lakers 143-142 overtime loss to the Spurs on Monday night; a decision he was subsequently fined $15,000 for.
“Let me start here. … I wasn’t going to say anything,” Walton said on Monday night. “I was going to save my money, but I just can’t anymore. It’s  points in the paint [by the Lakers] to 50, [and yet] again they outshoot us from the free-throw line-38 free throws [to 26 by the Lakers]. Watch the play where I got a technical foul. Watch what happened to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul [drew fouls on and] shot 30 free throws on us the night before. … We are scoring 70 points a night. In the paint.
“We’re putting pressure on Josh Hart, watch how Josh Hart plays this game. He played 40 minutes tonight. All he does is attack the rim. Zero free throws tonight. Zero. So to me it doesn’t matter. I know they’re young, I get that, but if we’re gonna play a certain way, let’s not reward people for flopping thirty feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul called. And then not reward players that are physically going to the basket and getting hit. It’s not right.”
Perhaps Walton got a message across as the Lakers went to the line more times in a game than their opponent for the first time on Wednesday night.
At the helm of a Lakers team that now has enormous expectations after the offseason addition of LeBron James, Walton is certainly feeling some pressure. He was recently named the likeliest coach to be fired first this season by oddsmakers, and while it may be a tad premature to start speculation about Walton’s job security, his leash isn’t the longest. Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and the rest of the Lakers front office will be expecting wins, and if those wins don’t begin to pile up, they will be looking to make some changes – either to the roster or to the coaching staff.
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