The regular season has been all about experimenting for the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only has Frank Vogel had to integrate the team’s offseason acquisitions, but he’s also had to find playing time for Talen Horton-Tucker, who’s forced his way into the rotation in his second season. And while some of Vogel’s combinations have been real head-scratchers, others have shown real promise, such as the five-man lineup of Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell.
We got our first extended look at that lineup on Saturday, when the Lakers played the Boston Celtics. When that lineup checked in, the Lakers trailed the Celtics 78-71. When they checked out, the Celtics’ deficit had been cut to two points. In the 10 minutes they played together, they posted an offensive rating of 121.1 and a defensive rating 50.0 for a positive net rating of 71.1.
That run earned them another look on Monday, when the Lakers played the Atlanta Hawks, and they didn’t disappoint. In the four minutes that they played together in the fourth quarter, they turned a four-point deficit into an eight-point lead and only allowed the Hawks to score two points. Yes, only two points.
“That was a huge run, a key run for us,” Frank Vogel said after the 107-99 win on Monday. “You’ve got four energy guys around LeBron, Trezz continues to finish at a high rate around the rim, Talen is giving us a good lift. AC and I thought Kuz played really well and made some great extra passes.
“Both games that rotation is one that worked for us.”
They ended the game with an offensive rating of 137.5 and a defensive rating of 28.6 for a net rating of +108.9. For the season, that five-man lineup has posted a +32.3 net rating in the 32 minutes they’ve played together. Their numbers are absurd.
Granted, the sample size is small, but the players in the lineup see the potential in it, including the most important player in the group, LeBron James.
“We play extremely hard, we cover for one another, and we run,” James said of the lineup on Monday. “Myself, THT, Caruso, Kuz and Trezz, we’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of speed, and we just play a lot of unselfish basketball. I mean, that’s our whole team, but that group in particular.”
Even the players that aren’t in that group have liked what they’ve seen, particularly on the defensive end.
“That group plays hard,” Anthony Davis said. “They’re scrappy defensively. Everyone does their jobs ... I think tonight we went on an 11-0 run to start the fourth, we were able to get the lead and maintain it. That group is a special group, and it’s our job to come in when that group does their job and finish it off for them and secure the victory. That lineup with Talen, LeBron, Trezz, AC and sometimes Kuz to start that fourth quarter, that’s been a great lineup for us so far this year.”
Vogel will continue to look at different combinations, but he likes the flow that he’s seen with his most recent rotations.
“We’ve got a lot of good players,” Vogel said. “We have two good players in Wes and Keef that didn’t even play the last two games, that I would feel great about those guys being in there too. So it’s just one of those things where I’m sure its not going to work every night, but when our rotation guys aren’t sitting on the bench for longer stretches so you have less cold guys coming into the game, and I think our group benefitted from those types of adjustments.”
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