The Los Angeles Lakers went into Saturday’s game against the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder down three starters: Danny Green, Anthony Davis and LeBron James. For most teams, that’s a death sentence, and with the supposed lack of depth the Lakers have around their two superstar players, it was supposed to be — but it wasn’t.
Instead, the Lakers got season-high scoring performances out of Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma and 25 combined points from Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels, who had played a combined 17 minutes in the three games prior. In total, the Lakers got 48 points from their bench — over 12 points higher than their season average.
While some may assume that the Lakers’ inspired play was a result of them feeling like they had nothing to lose with three of their key players out, Cook told reporters that wasn’t the case at all (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“I don’t think nobody in this locker room thought we were the underdog, honestly … We weren’t going out there and playing with free money. We wanted to go out there and compete as hard as possible.”
According to Kyle Kuzma, that’s the mindset the Lakers try to play with every night because everyone in the locker room is fighting for something, whether it’s an NBA championship or a spot in the rotation (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“Everybody on this team has something to prove. AD is trying to win a ring. Bron is trying to win one in LA. I’m trying to establish myself… just down the line. Dwight’s redemption. Everybody has something to prove, and we don’t take games lightly… We’re just a tight-knit group and we want to go out and dominate every game, and we don’t see why we can’t win every game.”
“We come into every game thinking we can win, no matter who is on the court. We believe that we’re the best team in the league, and just play with that confidence and swag.”
That type of mentality can be detrimental to a team, as we’ve seen with countless young teams in the past, but on a team as experienced and in sync as this year’s Lakers team, it seems to be working in their favor.
Now, the challenge for Vogel is to figure out how to get similar production from his bench unit when James and Davis are healthy. On the season, the Lakers are ranked 13th in bench scoring.
Hopefully these past two games have helped Vogel understand not just which players work together, but why they work together and how they can get better.