The Lakers don’t have much room for error. After an embarrassing loss to the Spurs (who had lost 18 in a row before beating the Lakers) last week, another tough loss to the Knicks on Monday, and a road loss to the Bulls on Wednesday night, the Lakers have lost all momentum following an impressive IST Championship run.
The team was clicking on all cylinders all throughout the IST, everyone buying in on defense, LeBron James and Anthony Davis asserting their dominance inside, and Austin Reaves, Cam Reddish, and Taurean Prince hitting timely 3-pointers down the stretch of games. That now feels like a distant memory as the Lakers look lost on defense and lackadaisical with no rhythm on offense (especially from 3PT range). This was the first game all year long the Lakers were fully healthy (as Gabe Vincent finally returned from a two month injury) but it didn’t matter as a sloppy first quarter and a half made an 18-point deficit too hard to overcome.
Here are my three takeaways from the game:
If you have been reading my previous articles, this takeaway may become repetitive and annoying for you, but it continues to happen and I have to illustrate it. Another sloppy first quarter leads to a Lakers loss. The Lakers have had an early 1st and 2nd quarter deficit in almost all of the games they have lost this season including all 4 of their losses since the IST.
A lot of those deficits have increased during the beginning of the second quarter (as was the case Wednesday when the Lakers were down 48-30 in the 2nd quarter) and it illustrates the lack of intensity this team plays with in the first half. Part of it is probably sheer confidence that they know how talented they are and can get back in the game at any time (which they somehow always do whether they win or lose), but it would all just be easier if the Lakers came out with intensity from the get go. Obviously that starts with a game-plan and getting good shots off from the jump, and it will be interesting to see how the first quarter plays out against a very good basketball team in the Timberwolves on Thursday.
Say what you want about Taurean Prince. I’ve heard “he can’t play defense, he can’t make 3’s, what is he getting minutes for” but on Wednesday night Prince was one of the Lakers few bright spots hitting 4 out of his 8 threes and contributing 16 points overall on the night. There were definitely a few times where DeMar DeRozan and Coby White drove past Prince for an easy layup or crossed him up and created space for an easy jumper, but there is no denying the effort Prince plays with. I don’t care what people say, the reason why Laker fans should love Prince is because he gives his all on a nightly basis and will try to do whatever it takes to win, even if he is somewhat limited defensively at times.
He has moxie, and moxie from role players is exactly what contenders need when the going gets tough in the NBA playoffs. With what is going on with the Lakers from an effort and intensity standpoint right now, Prince would be the last of my worries if I’m Lakers brass as he is playing with intensity and starting to show some consistency on the offensive end as well.
For a team that can’t shoot 3’s at a high clip, good defense is a priority to win games in the National Basketball Association. However, despite having a top 10 defensive rating in the NBA (111.7, ranked 8th) they have given up over 119 points in 4 out of their last 5 games. A lot of people are probably wondering how a team with Anthony Davis on the interior and guys like Cam Reddish and Jarred Vanderbilt on the perimeter, could consistently give up that many points over a 5 game stretch and I will tell you the short answer. Just as I elaborated about in the first takeaway, the answer is sloppy starts cause exhaustion late in the game.
When their offense isn’t clicking from the get go (which has happened in every single one of the teams last 4 losses), they fall behind by a lot and get exhausted on the defensive end trying to keep themselves in the game. As a result, when the game enters the end of the third and fourth quarters and the Lakers have done everything they could to get back in the game, it starts to become a shootout because the Lakers players only have enough energy for offense later in the game. Because of their exhaustion the Lakers have been getting killed in transition (they are top 5 in half-court defense but have always had a problem with transition defense). A few quick fixes to their defensive woes would be to start the game with more intensity so they don’t fall behind and to do whatever it takes to stop fast-breaks.
The Lakers travel to Minnesota to take on the #1 seed Timberwolves on Thursday. It will be a tall task but certainly an opportunity to get back on track and pick up a big win.