As January came to a close and a wave of frustration-induced candor enveloped the Lakers following two losses in a row, the team went in on how little they were practicing, saying that the wear and tear of a long championship run coupled with the shortest offseason in NBA history and an expedited current campaign had forced them to essentially treat games like practices because of how little they could get on the floor and work outside of matchups with other teams. At that point, they had more than twice as many wins (14) as practices (6) since the regular season started.
The team promptly ripped off a seven-game winning streak right after that vent session, practicing twice during the span. And after two losses in three games this week, they had their ninth practice of the season on Friday, meaning that if one combined that total with their number of shootarounds so far (2), they would still have half as many times getting on the floor to prep as a team (11) as they have total victories (22).
But even if they’ve still managed to have success with the strategy, the team is aware of the drawbacks of getting so little time on the floor together outside of games.
“It’s difficult without a lot of practice time to just sharpen your execution to where it needs to be. Even today’s practice was really a no-contact, offensive fundamental, drill work type of practice more than playing live, practicing live (where) we could stop and correct and teach,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “When you’re playing every other day, you’re not really afforded that luxury.”
Vogel also specified that the team was working on the execution of their offensive sets, because he thinks that will help a 3-point shooting attack that has been last in the league over their last 14 games, shooting just 30.2% from deep. He also chalked up their issues at defending the three to the team not executing their coverages very well, which one can also somewhat attribute to — you guessed it — a lack of time practicing together.
So why not just do it more? Well, there are reasons that the Lakers have practiced so little. It’s difficult to schedule one that complies with the NBA’s health and safety protocols on the road, for example, from finding a venue to getting guys over there on enough busses with enough spacing. Even at home, where they don’t face such issues, the lack of time between games makes it sometimes hard to justify the wear and tear on the team’s veteran legs that are still weary from their long title run and short turnaround to start this season.
The Lakers have obviously taken this league-wide trend to the extreme, but most teams haven’t been able to practice much, and the Lakers have as good an excuse to get their guys some extra rest as any team. To a degree, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place here.
There is also the reality that — given the Lakers’ success — it’s not like the lack of practice time is killing them right now. They have the long game of keeping everyone healthy during this unprecedented run constantly in the back of their minds, and young players like Kyle Kuzma who have extra energy have also found their way into the gym, whether the team is having a mandatory session or not.
“I think I do a good job of getting into the gym on off days, just constantly maintaining my work ethic, getting shots, getting lifts,” Kuzma said. “But one of the biggest issues, well, not issues, but when you don’t practice, from a chemistry standpoint, obviously being in the gym and just being around guys, that camaraderie, that all goes into the team’s chemistry.
“I’m not saying we don’t have good chemistry, but I think that’s one thing that gets affected a little bit.”
For now, the Lakers are just going to have to deal with it, because for all the reasons listed above, the solution to whatever level of woes the team with the second best record in the Western Conference is facing is not a mystical switch in the UCLA Health Training Center that says “practice more” that they can simply flip and solve all these problems.
“You’ve just got to make the best of the situation you’re in. Our guys do a good job learning from the film and carrying it over to the floor,” Vogel said. “Hopefully these execution pieces that we worked on today will carry over as well.”
Even if they don’t, it still may be a while before they get to work on them outside of games again. Because if only practice can make perfect, the Lakers are going to have settle for “good” for a little while longer.