The Lakers’ winless record in the preseason has already caused some buzz about the team’s current state. Maybe it’s because of the infamous 2012 “Now This is Going to be Fun” Lakers team also went 0-5 in their preseason. Or maybe it’s due to this newly built team once again being bitten by the injury bug, and looking like a shell of what many anticipated them to be as a result.
No matter how you slice it, it’s been a whole week of early overreactions mixed with some panic and fear, with a doses of patience mixed in. But amidst all of it, this current Lakers squad is staying encouraged, despite losing six meaningless games in a row.
Why? It’s not just because the games didn’t count. The team also believes they’re progressing in ways that aren’t really reflected in their overall preseason win-loss record, at least for now.
In the 288 minutes the Lakers played this preseason, their main focus was not to win each game, but rather to develop their on-court chemistry, implement a whole new offensive system and build rhythm as they get ready for a brand new regular season ahead.
“At the end of the day it’s really about the practice work that we are putting in. These are practice games where you’re working on things and you’re building rhythm and timing,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel on Thursday night. “That’s the biggest thing that you can do. Get as much rhythm and timing as you can while remaining healthy.”
One way the Lakers can make progress is to turn the ball over less and not foul so often. As of publishing time, L.A. ranks fourth in turnovers (19.8 per game) and first in fouls (23.3 per game) in the preseason. It’s clear that the team still lacks the necessary familiarity and communication they need. But team captain LeBron James believes that they’re addressing these issues as each game passes.
“I think we built our chemistry as the games went on and on and on. We’re starting to learn from each other. We learned from each other every quarter that we were on the floor,” James said. “That was the biggest thing that we can build from the games that we played.”
LA's later Q2 offense ran through AD in secondary break non-set play actions.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 15, 2021
Each play we see LA space the floor & attack the rim, punishing any switching w/bigs getting inside position for lobs.
*This* is example of chemistry we're seeing built day after day.
Sound ON pic.twitter.com/aAHBTMyAHw
James’ co-star, Anthony Davis, also remains optimistic about the season because of how the team has executed their offense. Getting nine new rotation players learn a brand new system and how to play with each other is no easy to ask. However, the 28-year-old superstar has seen a few encouraging things during the team’s film sessions, which is a sign that the team is slowly but surely coming together.
“When we look back at film, we think we played bad, but we actually played pretty well, despite a loss or a win,” Davis said. “Every day we go into film, coach showed us positive things. The way we moved the ball, the way we cut, the plays we were making just playing randomly, and so we’re encouraged by everything that we do.”
Davis and Vogel have been open about the team’s desire to be the best fast break and defensive squad in the league. In order for them to achieve this, the purple and gold have to play at a certain speed, tempo and aggressiveness while limiting their fouls and turnovers
This will be the Lakers at their best, forcing a turnover on defense and getting out in transition. This was a great pass from Russ with LeBron running the lane pic.twitter.com/oozdeqiFRg— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) October 13, 2021
The team understands that they can’t achieve their goals overnight, but they’re committed to improving on both ends as each game passes.
“Defensively we can get a lot better,” Davis said. “But we’re going to chip away at it every day.”
“I still think we have a long way to go on a defensive end,” Vogel echoed. “We’re getting everybody integrated and up to speed on how we do things. Every time we touch the floor there’s growth and improvement.”
Ultimately, growth and improvement are what the Lakers wanted this preseason, and they certainly achieved it, as they looked better with each passing game. It’s also the reason why the team’s superstars and veterans continue to preach patience this early in the season. Their goal is not to impress the world in the early days of October. What they want to achieve is way off in the distance, in May and June.
Take it from Russell Westbrook, who hardly remembers anything about his past preseason stints.
“I’ve been in the league 13 years, I don’t know my preseason record for any of those years,” Westbrook said when asked if going 0-6 in the exhibition slate was something he gave any thought to. “So no, it doesn’t matter.”
All Westbrook was looking for was progress, and he saw it.
“I feel like we got better each game. Obviously getting all guys healthy is most important and keeping us healthy throughout the year,” Westbrook said. “I’m just encouraged by how each game we’ve gotten a little better.”
Just like Westbrook, the Lakers probably won’t remember much about this year’s preseason, especially if they end up raising their 18th championship banner in the rafters of STAPLES Center. That kind of goal is a long way off, but while it may not have always looked like it, the team feels like it was taking baby steps towards it, and know it will take time to get there, no matter what their preseason record was.