EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Lakers have had plenty of success this season. They have the second best record in the NBA (26-7), and also rank second in field goal percentage (48.2%), second in steals per game (8.6), first in blocks per game (7.2), and fourth in net rating (+6.9).
They started out the season with a goal of not losing two games in a row, but due to their recent four-game losing streak, maybe the should have a new goal for the new year: Not losing any games on a back-to-back.
The Lakers have managed to avoid that so far, going 8-0 in their four back-to-backs this season. But it’s not something the team has kept track of so far, so when Frank Vogel was informed about that stat on Tuesday after practice, it was a nice surprise.
“I didn’t know that, and I’m happy about that,” Vogel said. “I think the first back-to-back we had this year LeBron James set a great tone with just coming out in his 17th year and playing with more energy than anybody on the court, and I think our team has fed off of that performance.”
The Lakers had played both the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors in those games, one of which Anthony Davis wasn’t available for. During those games, James averaged 21.0 points, 11.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds, setting a tone for his team to follow. If their leader and most-used player wasn’t taking it easy on back-to-backs at (now) age 35, how can anyone else on the roster?
Still, whatever tone James set was of the unconscious variety, because Alex Caruso didn’t know about the Lakers’ perfection in such situations either.
“I didn’t know that,” Caruso said. “We really don’t talk about it, or think too much about ‘we’ve got a back-to-back, we’ve got to go beat these two teams.’ We take it one game at a time.
“I think maybe the back-to-back part of it, knowing that we have to recover and get back to it, maybe we’re a little more locked in mentally. I know the back-to-backs have been against pretty good teams, I know that for sure.”
Rather than some conscious approach the Lakers are taking to back-to-backs, Caruso thinks their success there is just evidence of how locked in this roster is in general.
“I think it’s just the team we have. We got pros, man. We’ve got vets that know what they’re doing, and it’s easy to follow their lead and be ready to play every night,” Caruso said.
The Laker have played the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, and Dallas Mavericks on the back-to-backs. So maybe not every game was against a good team, but five of the eight were against teams that are currently in the playoff race. Portland also is a team that you can’t just mark on the calendar as a win, with guys like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, coupled with the Lakers’ lack of success on the road in Portland in recent years.
A valid point Caruso makes though is how the vets of the team have stepped it up, especially off the bench, whether its Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who started four of those games), or Dwight Howard. The bench has a solid mix of veterans and younger players. It allows the younger ones like Kyle Kuzma and Caruso himself to follow the vets lead wither their approach. The bench this season averages 36.2 points per game, which ranks 15th in the league. On back-to-backs however, the team averages 44.9 points per game, which would rank fourth in the league.
The Lakers have seven more back-to-back games this season, two of which are against the Mavericks/Thunder and Denver/Utah. It’ll be tough for the Lakers to go 22-0 the entire season on back-to-backs, but it’s something that’ll be fun to watch for.
And one thing is for certain: Whether the Lakers do or don’t go undefeated in such situations, it’s probably not something Caruso, Vogel or the rest of the team will keep track of as they continue to try to live in the moment. So if they do, it will likely be a pleasant surprise for them when they get asked about it.
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. You can follow Ali on Twitter at @ali_behpoornia.