Lakers credit improved defense for streak

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The 2014-15 Los Angeles Lakers are in unfamiliar territory.

Not only are they riding a surprising three-game win streak, but perhaps more impressive, they’re doing so because of their defense, which has been a historic weakness at times this season.

“We’re just changing out defense a lot,” coach Byron Scott said at practice Saturday. “We’re going to our full-court press, we’re going to our zone, we’re going to our man. We’re just trying to keep them off balance as much as possible. We’re in scramble situations where we feel we have to make that second and third effort, and our guys are doing that. ... I’m happy with the progress.”

The numbers bear that out.

The Lakers are allowing 108.0 points per 100 possessions this season, which is the second-worst mark in the NBA, according to NBA.com/Stats, but have trimmed that figure down to just 97.5 points per 100 possessions during their three wins over the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks -- the 10th-best defense over that span.

“[The coaching staff] told us our fourth-quarter numbers today, and the last two games have been good in terms of limiting Utah and Milwaukee’s field-goal percentage,” point guard Jeremy Lin said. “So I think that’s the foundation of it all. We got stops and then we come down, spread the ball, and take what the defensive gives us.”

Los Angeles held the Bucks to just 21 points on 21.1 percent shooting in the fourth quarter on Friday, and the Jazz to only 19 points on 27.3 percent shooting in the fourth on Wednesday.

Lin agrees with Scott that the unpredictability of the team’s new defensive coverages -- Scott dubbed their zone as a “Spider” defense on Monday -- have made opposing offenses uncomfortable.

“It keeps them off balance,” Lin said. “Scott has been able to mix in stuff -- some three-quarter court stuff, some traps, some zones, some matchup zones, some man. He’s really switching it up, and I think it doesn’t allow the offense to necessarily get too comfortable when we’re switching things up.”

The streak has Scott, who has had little to smile about this season, grinning from cheek to cheek.

“I was very happy with the way our guys played,” Scott said. “We competed. The last three games defensively we’ve been great, especially in the fourth quarter. I’m just happy with the progress that our guys are making. The process is going well. So there’s no reason not to smile.”

The good vibes may not last long, though, because the Oklahoma City Thunder are in town on Sunday.

Even without Russell Westbrook, who underwent facial surgery after injuring his right cheek Saturday, the Thunder (32-27) are by far the best team the Lakers (16-41) have faced during this stretch.

“We’re not used to that, but it feels good,” Scott said of the pressures of maintaining a winning streak. “I think our guys are hungry to try to see if we can get four.”