Only one team has been outscored by more points in third quarters than the Lakers this year: The Pistons, who have lost 15 third quarters by a total of 93 points. The Lakers have lost the 17 third frames they’ve played by 92.
In terms of average third quarter deficits, only the Pistons (4-11 overall, -6.2 in third quarters) and Houston Rockets (1-14, -5.7) have lost third quarters by more points on average than the Lakers (8-9, -5.4). And according to NBA.com, those are the only three teams losing third quarters by more than 4.1 points per game.
Somehow, this qualifies as improvement, because the Lakers were getting outscored by more points than any team in the NBA in third quarters as of one week ago, but in short, the team’s third quarters have left them in really, really bad company. And after the team once again got shellacked coming out of halftime, 33-21, in their 130-108 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night, Anthony Davis and LeBron James vented some of their frustrations about the team’s continuing struggles in that period.
“We’ve just got to find a way to score in the third quarter,” Davis said. “That’s been our Kryptonite the whole season.”
“Obviously third quarters have been really bad for us this year,” James added. “We’ll try to figure that out. We need to be better with that.”
But at this point, saying the Lakers “need to be better” in third quarters is as much of an understatement as your pilot philosophizing over the cabin intercom during their pre-flight checks that “perhaps I should not take a nap mid-flight.” Like, yes, that would be nice, but shouldn’t we be hoping that’s obvious at this point?
Through 17 games this year, it’s fair to say that the Lakers have not been a good basketball team. Sitting at below .500 and in ninth place in the Western Conference, they are 18th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and 24th in offensive efficiency. But in third quarters, they somehow morph into a squad as bad or worse as the league’s most active tankers, allowing 119.4 points per 100 possessions (29th in the league in third quarters, ahead of only the Sacramento Kings) while scoring just 99.1 (24th). The only two teams with worse net ratings than the Lakers in third periods (-20.3) are the aforementioned Pistons (-25.3) and Rockets (-20.7).
“We can’t score, and that’s putting us at a deficit. We come out, miss some shots, they get out in transition,” Davis summarized on Friday.
How can the team fix it? Well, they could start by not settling for tougher shots when teams make halftime defensive adjustments. The Lakers never take fewer shots in the restricted area than they do in the third quarter (6.2 per game, after taking 8.1 in the first, 7.2 in the second and 6.8 in the fourth), per NBA.com tracking data, and never take more mid-range shots than they settle for in the third (5 per game in third quarters after 4.4 in the first two periods, and 2.6 per game in the final frame).
Are those tiny margins? Absolutely. But they confirm what the eye test tells anyone watching these games: The Lakers get stagnant and start settling for more shots that their opponents want them to take in the third quarter, leading to more long rebounds, and are hemorrhaging points on the other end as teams realize L.A. can’t protect both the rim and the perimeter with how many defensive liabilities this team is counting on to make back-line rotations.
Are these things that the Lakers can fix? Maybe, and at the very least they realize this is a problem. But this is also something that has been going on all season. It’s one thing to acknowledge that it’s an issue. At this point, it’s past time for them to start working on new ways to fix it.
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