How the Lakers can make a big playoff push

It certainly won't be easy, but the Lakers have the chance to go on a serious run after the break and here's how they can do it.

LOS ANGELES — Though many people are overreacting, calling the Lakers contenders after their dismantling of the Pelicans in the final game before the All-Star break, there is still some time for this team to build off of that momentum and go on a serious run. Throughout the year, we have seen the Lakers play like one of the best teams in basketball on one night, and possibly the worst team in the NBA on other nights.

However, this is a revamped Lakers roster capable of winning five games in a row and doing some damage in the playoffs. Rob Pelinka pulled off a masterclass at the deadline by only trading Russell Westbrook (who didn’t fit with the team on and off the court) and a 1-4 protected first-round pick in 2027 for tenacious rebounder and elite defender Jared Vanderbilt (8.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game with a TS% of 61.3), knockdown shooter Malik Beasley (13.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game with a TS% of 53.3), and high-level shot-creator and playmaker D’Angelo Russell (17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game with a 3PT% of 39 and a TS% of 60.2).

We saw a glimpse of what this team could become at full strength in the first quarter against the Pelicans, when the Lakers jumped out of the gate to a 21-4 lead filled with lobs to Anthony Davis, fast-break scores, and knockdown threes. That game last Wednesday night was also one of the few instances we’ve seen the Lakers convincingly win against a tough opponent and lead the entire game without faltering. Nonetheless, that was a must win game going into the break, and now since the All-Star Game has concluded, it is time to assess how the 27-32 13th seed Lakers can make a playoff push.

1. Anthony Davis has to play at an MVP type level on both ends of the floor

The final game before the break was the first time we’ve seen Davis look absolutely dominant the entire game since he returned from a 6 week injury.

He was getting to the rim with ease, out-rebounding a very strong Jonas Valanciunas on the glass, getting tons of offensive rebounds, and playing lockdown defense the whole game. Though health is the main factor with Davis, some games he looks like a fragment of himself and that can’t happen down the stretch when every game will be crucial to the playoff picture. If Davis can play like he did last Wednesday night, they will be in a prime position to compete at a high level on a nightly basis the rest of the season.

2. D’Angelo Russell has to continue to be aggressive on the offensive end and demand the ball

In his first two games back in a Lakers uniform, Russell was efficient from the floor and took care of the basketball. However, there were times when we forgot he was on the court since Russell would pass up easy looks and defer to his teammates. Then, in the final game before the break Russell took over and was instrumental in leading the Lakers to a decisive victory with 21 points, 3 threes, 7 assists, and only 1 turnover.

Russell is shooting 40 percent from three this season and is the perfect compliment to LeBron James as his excellent shot creation and playmaking can alleviate some of the offensive pressure on James and make things smooth sailing for the Lakers.

Russell needs to understand that it is imperative he continues to demand the ball and create on every possible position. He is too talented to just sit and watch Dennis Schroder jack up shots, or Malik Beasley and Troy Brown Jr. attempt contested 3’s. Russell is the third-best player on this team and if the 3-pointer or open jumper isn’t there for him, continue to run the lethal pick-and-roll with Anthony Davis.

3. LeBron James’ health and usage

James has been open and adamant about discussing his fatigue and ankle soreness that he’s been dealing with. Darvin Ham was stretching him too thin early on in the season, but last’ week’s win again the Pelicans should be an indicator of things to come. James was effective posting a 21, 6, and 6 line in just 29 minutes of action. Down the stretch, James should never eclipse 35 minutes to maintain his effectiveness and health, even if it’s tempting to play him longer in a close game.

4. Darvin Ham keeping a consistent rotation

Many Lakers fans have been critical of Ham’s constantly changing rotations, but in the first game with the new squad fully healthy, the 10 man lineup he rolled out was excellent. As mentioned earlier in this article, the Lakers jumped out to a 21-4 lead to start the game, and that starting lineup of Russell, James, Beasley, Vanderbilt, and Davis is lethal and makes the most sense moving forward. However, as the game went on, the lead waned because of Ham pulling his four best players (Russell, James, Davis, and Vanderbilt) at the same time, when he did not need to. Ham should have let Russell or Vanderbilt stay in longer to keep similar energy to the starting lineups.

Lonnie Walker IV was arguably the third-best player on the Lakers early on in the season, and now he is the 11th man and out of the rotation, that is how deep this team has become. The key to maintaining a consistent lineup down the stretch will be limiting James’ minutes early on in the game, which will allow him to play most of the fourth quarter if need be.

5. Jared Vanderbilt needs 30 minutes a game and needs to be in the closing lineup

Vanderbilt is the Lakers premier perimeter defender, and besides Davis, the ONLY elite defender on the roster. Vanderbilt was certainly the most underrated and arguably the most coveted player the Lakers acquired at the deadline. Beforehand, the Lakers had no elite perimeter defenders and didn’t have that one guy that could defend a Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, Kawhi Leonard, or Jayson Tatum type at the end of the game.

Now they have that guy in Vanderbilt, who is one of the best defenders (and rebounders as well) in basketball. Ham has gotten away with limiting Vanderbilt’s playing time to around 23-25 minutes over his first 3 games as a Laker, but it is imperative to the team’s success that he should play closer to 30-32 minutes per game and absolutely be in the closing lineup. There is some opposition to this argument, since the Lakers would have two non-3PT shooters on the floor in the closing minutes with Vanderbilt and Davis, but their defense would be excellent and they would have a much higher chance of winning close games because of that defense on opposing team’s best players.

In conclusion, the Lakers have their best team since the 2020 roster that won a championship, but there is no time to waste. Coming out of the All-Star break on Thursday, the Lakers desperately need to take care of business against the Warriors, then win one of their two road games against the Mavericks and Grizzlies the following two games. The five things mentioned in this article have to happen for the Lakers to be anything but a Play-In team. They have the roster to make it to the 6 seed by the end of the season and possibly win one playoff series, but a lot needs to go their way and it starts with what was mentioned above.

Note: Advanced Statistics used in this article are gathered from and and are updated as of Tuesday, February 21st, 2023

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