Thursday was a similar and frustrating script for the Lakers this season. Coming off a big win over the Celtics on Tuesday, the team responded by falling to a shorthanded Grizzlies team without Ja Morant or Dillon Brooks, both of whom were in health and safety protocols.
It’s been a recurring trend for the team, taking one step forward and one step back this year. Impressive wins over Boston, Charlotte and Miami have been negated by a pair of losses to Oklahoma City and poor outings against the Timberwolves and Memphis.
Each time it feels like the team could be rounding a corner to turn the season around, they respond with a frustrating loss.
“We feel like it’s going to happen,” Vogel said. “We keep getting disappointed when we think it’s there, we think we’ve had that moment. Our biggest battle, our biggest problem this year is consistency. Once we take one step forward, we fall back and have a disappointing performance. We got to find a way to catch ourselves from that.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part about the inconsistency has been the different ways it’s shown. In Thursday’s loss, it was turnovers — an issue that had previously plagued the team but had looked to be a problem of the past — as the team turned the ball over 22 times, leading to 27 points for Memphis.
Offensive rebounding was a factor as well coming up against Steven Adams, long one of the best rebounders in the league. The Lakers gave up 14 offensive rebounds and were outscored 17-1 in second chance points.
In the seven games preceding Thursday, the Lakers were averaging just 14 turnovers per game, and were allowing only 10.1 offensive rebounds per game. The Lakers relapsed in both aspects on Thursday, all coming after an impressive win at home against Boston where neither of those things were factors, and the team looked to have finally found its footing. But this loss made it clear they aren’t quite there yet.
“Some games we have (show consistency), some games we didn’t,” Davis said. “Tonight we didn’t, against Boston we did. It’s just got to be a more consistent thing. That’s our biggest problem right now is consistency. We come out certain games and don’t play how we’re supposed to play and games like Boston, we come out and play great. We have to be a more consistent team if we want to truly compete for a championship. It’s a mindset thing.
“We understand that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” Davis continued. “We can’t control misses or makes. But what we can control is our effort defensively. We try to hang our hats on being a top-five, top-three defensive team and we haven’t been. So, we have to change that quickly. Tonight was game 26, and we just can’t – I think we’re in sixth (in the standings) right now, a game-and-a-half, two games out of fourth — we can’t keep taking a step forward and two steps backwards. We have to fix it quickly.”
As Davis also notes, the Lakers have been somewhat fortunate in the sense that few teams around the league and Western Conference have hit the ground running this season. Despite all their inconsistencies and even after Thursday’s loss, the team sits just above the play-in games in the sixth seed, and two games back of hosting a playoff series in the fourth seed.
It’s a situation that likely won’t continue as teams will begin to find their stride with eight teams in the Western Conference currently sitting within four games of .500 records, ranging from the fourth seed Grizzlies to the 11th seed Trailblazers.
In that sense, the Lakers should feel a sense of urgency to get things right before the rest of the conference does. To do so, they’ll need to figure out how to string together a series of consistent performance and results, something that’s been an unachievable task so far in a season filled with turnarounds begetting letdowns in a seemingly endless cycle.