The Lakers of late have traversed through a highly competitive western conference without Lebron James with mixed results. Losses to the Clippers, Kings, and Thunder after a marquee win against the Warriors have led to a constant exercise of blaming individual players on the roster when in actuality the Lakers struggle in short periods as a team.
The common theme in Laker losses without Lebron are when teams increase their defensive physicality. The young Lakers do not respond back with offensive toughness and discipline. These are elements of the game that the young Lakers can grow from.
Despite having second half leads in almost every one of the losses, the young Lakers have struggled to close out games. Without the normalizing presence of Rajon Rondo to help direct the offense, the team is prone to scoring droughts and have issues setting up their offense.
12/27/18 @ SAC – 4th Quarter
In the first loss to the Kings each Laker contributed to the lead dissolving as the offense stagnated and the Lakers fell asleep on their defensive assignments. When being pressed by defenders, they turned the ball over and then fouled or gave up wide open shots in transition.
On this play Ingram gets Shumpert behind him but then allows him to get back into the play by over dribbling. Ingram essentially has a 2 on 1 with Chandler against Cauley-Stein’s defense but doesn’t take advantage of it.
Luke pulled Ingram soon after and let Lonzo who was playing well direct the offense, unfortunately there were mixed results on that end like this next play:
Kuzma holds the ball with Bojan pressing into him and allows Bojan to knock the ball off of him for a turnover. Chandler is screening Lonzo’s defender but Lonzo never uses it.
On this play Lonzo gets pressure from Fox on his dribble and he begins to dribble around with it instead of taking Chandler’s screen.
This ends up disrupting the timing of the play and the end result is a long contested missed three by Kuzma. Based on Kuzma and Hart’s body language for most of this possession, I am not sure Lonzo was supposed to go in that direction with his pass.
On the last play for this game, Ingram actually calls the screen before giving the ball back to Kuzma because he recognizes the better matchup. After getting another 2 on 1 situation with Chandler against Cauley Stein, Kuzma attempts a layup falling out of bounds.
This is a missed opportunity for Kuzma to get a tough but makeable basket
12/28/18 vs LAC – End of 3rd Quarter
One of the biggest reasons for the Clippers taking the lead back from the Lakers had to do with the lineup the Clippers rolled out that pressed the Lakers at every opportunity which generated turnovers and helped them take the lead back.
The sequence below every single Clipper defender presses their assignment which results in Kuzma forcing a pass to Chandler into a turnover. KCP not getting Lonzo a clean entry pass and Lonzo not sealing off Williams leads to the start of the mess.
The very next play Lonzo dribbles around and gets the pass to KCP late which allows Williams to deflect the ball and knock it off of KCP. Lonzo attempts the pass with just his left hand because Bradley is pressing Lonzo’s right hip.
Luke subs out Lonzo and Caruso gets full court pressed by Beverley, because Caruso is trying to protect the ball from Beverley by dribbling on one side, he ends up telegraphing where his pass is going and Pat jumps it.
At this point, the Clippers continue their aggressive defensive play and when combined with all the misses by the Lakers the snowball turns into an avalanche and the game gets out of reach
01/02/19 vs OKC – 4th Quarter
After a short scoring stint by Svi to put the Lakers up by 5, OKC began to the same thing that other teams have done. By putting in an aggressive effort on the defensive end, they were able to generate turnovers and take the lead from the Lakers.
On the play below the Ingram sets up Pope with a timely pass but Pope hesitating on his jumper allows Schroeder to recover. He gives it back to Ingram who is forced to ISO since Pope doesn’t really set a secondary screen. Diallo strips the ball off of Ingram.
On this play the Lakers execute their offense and Svi gets Noel to bite on his shot fake. He immediately dribbles by Noel and has the option of attacking the rim or pulling up for a free throw line jumper. Instead Svi over dribbles into the paint and leaves his feet looking for Zubac and gets called for a travel.
A few possessions later the Lakers run their offense with Ingram getting the ball from Lance. Zubac gives a poor quality screen and Pope doesn’t screen at all as Nader is able to stick Ingram the entire way. After getting on the low block, Ingram is looking for his teammates to cut but no one does so he is forced to take another ISO.
This last sequence sums up exactly where the toughness level was at this point in the game. Patterson is battling Ingram off his spot and face guarding him the entire possession. Lonzo gives the ball up and goes to the corner and never does anything else. McGee nearly turns it over and misses a wide open Pope behind him. The end of the possession is a bad hook shot by McGee.
With the Lakers continuing on without Lebron, Rondo, and possibly Kuzma, their options offensively are becoming more and more limited. Though the recent stretch of losses is disappointing, a lot of it has to do with the young players stepping up their toughness when teams get physical.
In all three of the losses, the collapse by the Lakers in their offensive tenacity has allowed opposing teams to take back leads and momentum in games. As the season wanes on these in-game stretches are the ones that Laker fans want to see their young core persevere through and there is no doubt that the front office and coaching staff does too.