At the start of the season, the LA Lakers were considered the top favorite for this year’s NBA crown. With 7 present or past All-Stars in the team, plus the fact that in Lebron James, they have the decade’s MVP (if there was such an award), the Lakers were believed to be a cinch to reach the Finals at the very least, and eventually win the coveted 2022 NBA title.
Alas, with a quarter of the season done, the Lakers are languishing in 6th place in the Western Conference, owing to a very mortal 14-13 record. Despite a line-up oozing with talent and experience, the Lakers are embarrassing themselves with inconsistent performances that have barely kept them above water.
Of course, one has to consider the fact that there has been a dirge of injuries that have no doubt stymied the team’s development. King Lebron has been sidelined occasionally due to numerous ailments, the most recent of which was on his recurring abdominal woes. Anthony Davis’ injury in last year’s 1st round in the playoff was the main culprit leading to their early demise. This year, AD is still confronting some knee problems. And the injury list includes more players, probably a consequence of the fact that the Lakers have the oldest team in the league.
But by and large, the cause pinpointed has been the inconsistent play the Lakers have ben producing. In an interview after a losing game last week, Coach Frank Vogel lamented the “casualness of their approach” to the game.
And this shows in the stats. The Lakers’ most glaring stat weakness is in their turnovers (TOVs) depeartment. Despite having marquee ball distributors in Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Lebron himself, the team’s 16.1 TOVs per game is the third largest in the league. All other stats point to a middle-of-the-pack team which may break the 50% win percentage occasionally, which is a far cry from the dreamed-of title contender.
This preponderance of errors can be derived from the following: a) a casualness in the approach as articulated by Coach Vogel, which means the absence of a sense of urgency and a lack of focus on the work at hand; and b) a lack of togetherness, a lack of experience working together on the playing court. The latter can be addressed by providing them more practice and more actual playing time together. But the former will need a change of mindset that will exorcize that sense of entitlement, that excessive confidence, that ‘no cause for alarm, folks’ attitude among their All-Stars.
AD wants the team to play like underdogs. He wants to see the team diving for loose balls once again, playing pitbull defense that growls menacingly, and will take no prisoners from any opposition. Lebron demonstrated this different level of physicality (albeit unintended) that caused his first-ever suspension in a game against the Detroit Pistons.
But it hasn’t rubbed off on everyone yet. Some people believe that the Lakers’ version of an all-star cast will start weaving their magic once the playoffs get near. They feel that these wizened vets will want to pace themselves for the bigger battles ahead in the playoffs. Others however feel that the more they show a soft side right now, the more the other teams will gain confidence pitting their skills against them.
But the good thing is that season is still in its early stage. The Lakers still have plenty of time to make adjustments in order to achieve a consistency and a greater intensity with which to fight the future wars in the playoffs. The older legs will definitely need to be cared for in preparation for the gruelling grind come the playoffs. It will certainly need more practice time, and more tinkering with the present line-up. But once the triumvirate of Lebron, AD and Russell get their acts together, this could look like a runaway train and it’s good luck to anyone who may choose to try to stop it.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of Silver Screen And Roll. Other photos courtesy of: NetsDaily, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Lakers Daily, SFGate, Detroit Free Press, YouTube and Lakers Nation.