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Lakers vs. Magic Preview: The soap opera continues

This has been the most dramatic Lakers season in quite some time. And things could get even more ugly if they lose to the Magic.

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Wednesday’s dramatic game vs. the Indiana Pacers took place, the Lakers had a choice: To play hard and replicate their performance against the Utah Jazz, or further jeopardize their head coach’s job by losing to a now 16-29 (4-17 on the road) Indiana Pacers team.

The purple and gold started the game by doing the former, only to end it by allowing the latter to happen, and adding another messy chapter to what has become the most entertaining soap opera in basketball today.

But in fairness to Frank Vogel, he coached like his job was on the line on Wednesday. The defensive-minded coach has always adjusted and tinkered his rotations based on defense in the past three seasons, and that’s likely at least part of why he decided to go big once again and start with Dwight Howard.

Was this “LeBron James is the best shooter on the floor” lineup the best offensive approach? Probably not. But it did get work done on defense. The Lakers finished the first quarter with a nine-point lead (32-23), held a below-average Pacers team to shoot just 16.7% from the 3-point area and 36.4% from the field.

It was a good quarter for Los Angeles. Unfortunately, there was a catch.

The intelligent offensive-mind of Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle took note of how Indiana feasted on the Lakers’ drop coverage and the paint when Vogel removed Howard at the 6:27 minute mark. The clip below was just two out of the 62 (!!!) points the Pacers converted from the paint. Indiana had found the blueprint to attack the Lakers’ defense.

And true enough, the Pacers’ 62 points in the paint were the third most the Lakers gave up this season. What’s even more frustrating is that Indiana’s points in the paint only increased every quarter. From shooting just 36.4% in the paint in the first, they went on to shoot 48% in the second, 53% in the third, and 58% in the fourth quarter.

On the defensive side of things, the Pacers’ 2-3 zone adjustment hindered L.A.’s early mismatch offense. Indiana also knew that the Lakers’ on-ball defenders couldn’t navigate screens to save their lives. Domantas Sabonis (20 points) and Caris LeVert (30 points) had the time of their lives feasting on most of their screen-and-roll actions.

Just watch Sabonis here easily find his way to the hoop. How many times have the Lakers been burned on the pick-and-roll? There’s only so much Vogel can do.

It also didn’t help that the Lakers’ game plan to takeaway LeVert’s right hand didn’t work. This was what caused Vogel to bench Russell Westbrook, which spoke volumes to how desperate the defensive-minded coach was to win Wednesday’s game.

Still, LeVert scored 22 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter by picking apart L.A.’s defense, even without Westbrook.

The most head-scratching questions for the Lakers are why they decided to put Carmelo Anthony at the 5 and play drop coverage against Sabonis instead of James? Also, why didn’t anyone mismatch hunt Jeremy Lamb in the closing lineup?

Maybe it’s because Vogel has always been stubbornly adherent to his basketball philosophies (and rightfully so, since he won a championship exactly 14 months ago) but what is clear is that his style has yet to mesh and work with this personnel handed to him midway through the season.

And that’s where the problem lies for the Lakers. The scheme and non-scheme issues have been going back and fort since the start of the season. And it seems to only be getting worst now that Westbrook and Vogel are in a very awkward place. Only winning can probably solve this, but unfortunately for the Lakers, they have the hardest remaining schedule of any Western Conference team.

The difficult part of their schedule starts tomorrow when they face the Orlando Magic on the road, the city where Vogel had some of his lowest lows (getting fired by the Magic) and highest highs (winning his first championship. Which end of the spectrum he leaves it closer to is still uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: This has been the most dramatic Lakers season in quite some time. And it could get even more ugly.

So, grab your popcorn, everyone. The Lakers’ soap opera continues.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers will not have Anthony Davis (MCL sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (bone bruise) on Friday. The team was reportedly optimistic Davis would return during this road trip, but as for Nunn, he faced a setback in his rehab this week. On Thursday, he tweeted a promise that his return will be worth the wait:
  • LeBron James (rectus abdominis strain) is probable while Mason Jones (two-way contract) is with the South Bay Lakers.
  • Orlando’s center Wendell Carter Jr. (hamstring) and R.J. Hampton (knee) are out for Friday’s game.
  • The Orlando Magic (8-38) have the worst record in the league. They’ve been dominated by injuries as well, but are ranked 28th in the league in offensive rating (102.9) and are 25th in defensive rating (112.1). The Lakers defeated the Magic in December by 12 points.
  • As if things can’t get any more awkward, it was reported by The O.C. Register that Westbrook wasn’t happy about being benched on Wednesday against the Pacers.
  • On a lighter note, LeBron James has now overtaken Stephen Curry in the NBA All-Star fan voting. If he keeps this up, James will likely be this year’s captain in his hometown Cleveland. The All-Star fan voting ends in two days.

It will be a week full of early starts for Lakers basketball as they head east, starting tomorrow. They will tip off against the Magic at 4 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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