Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Los Angeles Lakers boasted a strong defensive team that would’ve ranked higher than 13th had they not dealt with a rash of injuries to close out the year. This season, their defense ranks 23rd, allowing 111.6 points per 100 possessions, and 20th in opponents’ fast-break points per game (15.3).

Matters have been even more dire when JaVale McGee is not on the court. Thus, it was a point of emphasis as the Lakers returned to practice following an off day.

Head coach Luke Walton and his coaching staff watched film of Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors but bypassed sitting the players down for a formal viewing session. Instead, they will be shown clips during individual work with Lakers assistant coaches.

“Transition defense, we have our staples on defense, and that’s the main one,” Walton said of his team improving. “The rest of our defense doesn’t matter if we don’t get back. We’ve started to have some slippage in that, so we worked on transition, worked on some individual defense, and offensively we just continue to work on trying to clean up some of the execution.”

The Lakers’ struggles on defense have been largely attributed to a new-look roster still developing chemistry. Walton acknowledged that has been a factor in breakdowns on that end of the court.

“One, it’s a new group playing together. Two, it’s learning coverages and all that,” he said. However, Walton also noted that goes out the window if there’s a lack of commitment.

“Defense, no matter what you’re running, if you don’t give the right type of effort, it doesn’t matter at this level. There’s been nights we haven’t played defense hard enough. Some of it has been communication and a little bit of the continuity of different groups playing together.”

As for the makeup of his roster, Walton is confident the Lakers have the necessary players to be an improved defensive team.”You need guys that are good at playing defense and you need guys that are committed at playing defense. We have both,” he said.

“We’ve been playing better. Our defense, where it is now compared to where we were to star the season, is better. That’s what we keep talking about, is progress. Each step of the way we’ve gotten better on defense.

“It’s habits and effort. It doesn’t take talent to get back on defense. It is habits, getting back on the release of your teammate’s shot and doing it every time. We repped it and repped it and repped it today.”

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