The Los Angeles Lakers never made it easy for themselves. They got off to a hot start this 2023-24 campaign and made a bold statement with their triumph in the inaugural In-Season tournament. But the positive momentum soon fizzled out for the Purple and Gold. After their 14-9 sprint, Los Angeles dropped 12 of their next 19 games. Roughly halfway through the year, they were below .500 at 19-21.

With the majority of the Western Conference improving from last season, the Lakers missing the Playoffs entirely was not out of the question.

But if there's anything Los Angeles has proven over the last two years, it is that they are a resilient bunch. They made the Western Conference Finals in 2023 after beginning the year 2-10. They are back in the top-half of the Play-In this year after winning 19 of their first 40 games.

The Lakers will take on the New Orleans Pelicans again after beating them on Sunday to hold on to the eight seed. They controlled that entire game, but it won't be as easy this time around on Tuesday. The Lakers do have holes defensively that New Orleans could exploit.

Lakers' perimeter defense still an issue

Injuries to Jarred Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent for a large portion of the season have caused problems for the Lakers when it comes to defending opposing guards. Vanderbilt has appeared in just 29 games this year, while Vincent, who recently returned from a knee injury, has played in only 11 games. Without them, the likes of Austin Reaves, D'Angelo Russell, Taurean Prince, and Cam Reddish have been tasked with chasing guards around the floor. It hasn't exactly worked out all the time.

Guards have really cooked the Lakers all season long. It hasn't just been Stephen Curry, who cooks everybody. Jamal Muray had no issues getting to his spots in all of Denver's matchups against the Lakers this season. He averaged 25 points per game against them on 31-61 shooting from the field (50.8%) while dishing 28 assists to just six turnovers in three matchups.

It's also been players like Jalen Green (before the heater he went on at the end of the season).

The Lakers had a defensive rating of 114.8 points allowed per 100 possessions during the regular season. That mark ranked 17th in the league. Los Angeles has always prided itself on being a top notch defensive team since trading for Anthony Davis back in the summer of 2019. This year's team sacrificed some on that end to become more potent on offense. It's a trade off that has been fruitful in maximizing this squad's potential, but that could come back to bite them at some point if they can't get enough stops.

Lakers lacking backup Big

Anthony Davis has some competition for best defensive player in the NBA with Victor Wembanyama, Joel Embiid and others, but he's in the conversation. The Lakers have needed him to be, or else their defense resembles something akin to a layup line. Not having a reliable backup center is a big reason for this.

With Davis off the floor this season, the Lakers' defense has understandably gotten worse. It goes down to 116.8 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass. Los Angeles mitigates this some by sitting Davis to start second and fourth quarters when teams play a lot of their backups. But just look at the games he missed earlier this week. The Minnesota Timberwolves scored 127 points against them and then the Warriors dropped 134 on their heads right after.

If the Lakers are going to make a deep playoff run and make it out of the play-in, they need Davis playing at his full capacity. Their defense falls apart without him.