Lakers News: LeBron Talks Suspension, Frank Vogel on Talen Horton-Tucker & More

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2021

Lakers News: LeBron Talks Suspension, Frank Vogel on Talen Horton-Tucker & More

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers pulled back to .500 on Wednesday with a 124-116 win over the Indiana Pacers. The game marked the return of star LeBron James following a one-game suspension. James finished with 39 points, six assists and five rebounds while fellow standout Anthony Davis sat out due to illness.

    It's been a struggle for the Lakers to reach 10 wins, largely due to injuries. James, Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker and others have missed games this season. Meanwhile, prized offseason acquisition Russell Westbrook continues to underwhelm.

    Poor defense has also been a problem for Los Angeles, as the Lakers rank just 19th in defensive rating, per NBA.com.

    There's still time for L.A. to right the proverbial ship and make a postseason run, of course. Heading into Friday's game against the Sacramento Kings, though, there's still plenty of work to be done. Here, we'll dive into the latest on James, Horton-Tucker and that aforementioned defense.

James Believes Suspension Was Undeserved

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Jame's suspension stems from Sunday's game against the Detroit Pistons. During the contest, James struck Detroit's Isaiah Stewart in the face, drawing blood. Stewart attempted to go after James multiple times and was subsequently handed his own two-game suspension.

    According to James, though, the contact was entirely accidental—the result of a "swim move" to disengage Stewart's arm.

    "I'm not that kind of player. I didn't think it warranted a suspension," James said, per Michael J. Duarte of NBC Los Angeles.

    While it's impossible to know James' intent on the play, there's no denying that it was a heavy blow. The blood on Stewart's face was clearly visible, and according to Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today, the laceration required eight stitches.

    James, of course, has no history of dirty play. This is likely why his suspension was shorter than that of Steward—who did try to escalate the situation.

    "I didn't think he would get suspended," Davis said of James, per Michael Corvo of CluthPoints. "I don't think anyone thought he was going to be suspended, to be honest. It was an accident."

    Whether it was an accident or not, James sat out Tuesday's 106-100 loss to the New York Knicks.

Vogel Looking to Make Horton-Tucker a Defensive Centerpiece

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Los Angeles' defense has been anything but great this season, and part of the problem may reside in Horton-Tucker's defensive inexperience. While the 2019 second-round pick out of Iowa State has developed into a fine role player for the Lakers, he averaged less than 20 minutes per game over his first two seasons.

    This year, Horton-Tucker is averaging 31.4 minutes and is being developed as one of L.A.'s defensive centerpieces—which has yielded mixed results.

    "We're grooming Talen [Horton-Tucker] to guard the other team's best player and sometimes that's going to look really good and sometimes you’re going to struggle," coach Frank Vogel said, per Corey Hansford of Lakers Nation.

    The good news is that Horton-Tucker has plenty of time to grow into his new role before the postseason stretch. He's only appeared in seven games since returning from preseason  thumb surgery. His role in the new-look lineup is very much a work-in-progress.

    As Horton-Tucker continues to grow, the Lakers get healthier and Vogel continues his search for the ideal rotation, L.A. should start to see some improvements on the defensive side of the ball. According to one player, though, effort is also going to play a role.

Avery Bradley Hoping for Stronger Effort on Defense

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Guard Avery Bradley wasn't exactly a marquee offseason addition in the mold of Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony. However, he has played a significant role in the early season. He has started 13 of his 19 appearances and is averaging 23 minutes.

    While Bradley admitted that the Lakers are still learning how to play as a team, he believes that a stronger and more consistent defensive effort is the key to turning the corner on that end of the court.

    "We're trying to figure out how to complement one another. Not only on the defensive end but on the offensive end as well," Bradley said, per Damian Burchardt of Lakers Nation. "We’re figuring it out every single game. One thing I can say is on the defensive end it's about effort. If we make mistakes, we have to go out there and have that mindset to try to play as hard as we can every single possession"

    While great teams can afford to play postseason-caliber defense only when it matters most, Bradley knows that these Lakers aren't there yet.

    "You can’t just turn it off and on. We're not good enough yet," he said.

    Will the Lakers get to a point where the offense is potent enough to outweigh inconsistent defense? Perhaps, but if they're willing to commit to a better brand of defense now, it would make the entire process easier.

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