Los Angeles — The Los Angeles Lakers have a problem. Their fast-paced, Maserati of a playing style turns into a golf cart in fourth quarters.
“We’ve got to work on cleaning up fourth quarters. I know that we have guys that when we’re not making shots, they want to take it upon themselves,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton after his team’s 107-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that saw them collapse in the final frame once again.
The Lakers already pass the third-least of any team in the league, but as Walton notes, during fourth quarters their ball movement nearly completely disappears, and their pace slows to a crawl as a result.
The Lakers rank third in the league in pace, with 104.24 possessions per game. The problem is that in fourth quarters that pace drops to a rate that would equal 99.11 possessions per game. Pace is down across the league in fourth quarters compared to per-game averages, and five-ish possessions may not sound like a lot, but condensed into a smaller sample size, it’s created issues for a Lakers team that can really only outscore teams if they outrun them.
Instead, they’ve went isolation-heavy, and they have some theories on why.
“I think sometimes we may get in panic mode when things aren’t going quite the right way. Guys take the initiative to try and get into the lane, go one-on-one, get to the basket, whatever it is. I think that’s the competitive side that comes out in us that just wants us to win the basketball game,” said Lakers forward Brandon Ingram, and Walton agreed.
“Not in a selfish way, but in a competitive way, guys try to put more on themselves. And especially as the game gets down the stretch and in the fourth quarter, that naturally just happens to players and teams,” Walton said.
“What we’re stressing to our guys is that we have to continue to play fast,” Walton continued. “It’s something that we have to continue to get better at if we’re going to win some of these games while we have the injuries that we have.”
So far the Lakers haven’t shown a lot of progress in that department, although the injuries Walton noted have to be pointed out as a factor there. Without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, some of the progress the team might have made by now is a little stunted. Still, Lakers guard Josh Hart doesn’t want to use that as an excuse.
“This year we have ‘Bron, we have [Rondo] and guys like that to kind of help settle things down,” Hart said. “But I think we’re all capable of it, so when adversity strikes or when our offense is stalling, or when other teams are making a run, we’ve got to just do a good job of turning down okay shots for better shots and getting the ball moving.”
For 18-year veteran Tyson Chandler, the Lakers’ struggles don’t make much sense because the team is paradoxically going away from what allowed them to build leads in the first place.
“We do a good job of scoring when we’re running. I know the coaches are screaming it, the bench is screaming it,” Chandler said. “With LeBron, Rondo, Kuz and Beas out, we’ve just got to pick up the tempo.
“We’ve just got to get up and down the floor, get shots up, turn it into a speed game, a scrambling game, because we are young. We are missing a lot of our leadership and floor generals. We’re going to have to adjust.”
The Lakers didn’t adjust against Oklahoma City, and Ingram took some of the blame for that.
“I know I kind of got away from the way we were playing at the beginning of the game when we were finding shooters and they were knocking down some shots,” Ingram said.
It wasn’t the first time Ingram has been self-critical of his tendency to fall into isolation mode when things get tough for the Lakers, but Walton doesn’t want Ingram to get too down on himself.
“We want those mentalities, but we’ve got to continue to trust in the pass and trust in each other no matter what down the stretch,” Walton said.
The Lakers’ players will have to find the tough balance between their desire to make plays and win the game, and not abandoning the free-wheeling style of play that got them their leads, but Ingram doesn’t think it’s hopeless. He thinks the Lakers will get there, even if it’s taking more time than anyone would like.
“I think when you realize what’s been working, you try to keep at it even if guys don’t make shots. Just continue to do it,” Ingram said.
So far the Lakers haven’t, but realizing they have an issue is the first step towards fixing it. Nearly halfway through the season, they probably need to start showing some progress on that front soon, with or without LeBron James.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.