The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off another loss, a 113-107 defeat in Miami at the hands of the Heat. At first glance, a Laker fan who didn’t watch may have felt elated by the sight of that final score, given how well the 30-17 Heat have played. Especially when considering that the Lakers were still without Anthony Davis.
However, that final score fails miserably at telling the whole story of the game.
The Heat held a lead of around 20 points for nearly all of the second and third quarters, with the margin getting as high as 23 in the early minutes of the fourth. After holding that large of a lead — a lead they never let go of after acquiring it two minutes and 13 seconds into the first quarter — the Heat understandably let their foot off the gas while the Lakers put the pedal to the medal in the hopes of a desperate comeback.
It came up just short, and (once again) left the Lakers to regret the lack of effort and urgency they showed for the first three quarters of the game.
“We just started off a little... a lot too slow,” Russell Westbrook said after deciding “a little” wasn’t going to cut it. “We picked it up a little too late. Our sense of urgency was a little late.
“We just weren’t playing hard enough. When we decided to play hard, you saw the difference. It doesn’t matter in this league what a team runs,” Westbrook continued. “If a team is playing harder than you, then you’ll know it right away. And that’s that.”
Westbrook boiled it down to the Heat playing much harder than the Lakers for the majority of the game, but there were some schematic reasons for the Lakers erasing most of that 23-point fourth quarter deficit. After deploying a mixed bag of on-ball and off-ball screen coverage on defense — something our friend Cranjis McBasketball detailed on a lengthy Twitter thread — the Lakers pivoted to a lot of switching late in the game.
“We were able to switch 1-5 and I felt like it made the game easier for us,” Avery Bradley said when asked what allowed them to make the comeback. “We were able to make easier reads on the defensive end, and were able to get stops and get out on the offensive end and make plays.”
However, even with the schematic changes that may have helped the team late, Bradley agreed with Westbrook that there’s an effort problem with the team.
“I think a big part of it is just our effort, from night-to-night. On this team we have a lot of talented players and we all have to buy into our roles. My role is to go out and play hard on defense every single night. There’s nights I feel like I’m not and I want my teammates to be able to tell me,” Bradley said. “I think we have to understand what we all can bring to the team, and bring that every single night, and put that energy to each other. I feel like we can turn this season around. We can win games, play better, more consistently, but it’s going to take that.
“I know you guys have probably been hearing that (all season), but I think if we can do that, we can be the team we’re supposed to be.”
Does this song sound familiar? If you’ve been following the Lakers all season, then you’re most likely trying to recognize where you’ve heard this tune before. Sadly, there are multiple instances of a lack of effort and urgency being referenced by the players and coaches this season when discussing the team’s failures.
On Nov. 30, the Lakers ultimately beat the Kings by 25, but that was not without a 59-50 deficit at halftime. That was the game where DeAndre Jordan was first benched, not playing in the second half. That definitely helped, however, a fiery Frank Vogel at halftime also helped admitting he had to “light a fire” under the team to play with more effort.
Before that, LeBron James said the Lakers had to figure out how they could keep a “sense of urgency for as close to 48 minutes as possible” after an embarrassing, 130-108 loss against the Boston Celtics on Nov. 19.
If the above re-litigation of past embarrassments for the Lakers isn’t enough for you, there’s also the Timberwolves’ 107-83 rout of the Lakers on Nov. 12 in the venue then known as Staples Center. After that game, Anthony Davis fired off what was arguably the harshest criticism he’s ever directed at his team.
“We have to decide who we want to be,” Davis said then. “A championship team? That’s not us right now. We’re not winning a championship the way we’re playing. We have to be better. We got to care more for our wins at home, wins in general. That was embarrassing.”
So Bradley is right. The media — and, by extension, Lakers fans — have been hearing that all season.
Speaking of Davis, they’ll almost certainly be getting him back tonight, as he is listed as probable for the team’s matchup with the Nets. Bradley was asked about the big man’s looming return, hoping that AD can “bring that energy on both ends of the floor for us.” Westbrook also noted that his return would give the Lakers “a boost,” but also admitting a harsh truth.
“Not one person is going to change every aspect of what we’re doing,” Westbrook said.
And he’s right. If the Lakers are expecting the exciting return of Davis to singlehandedly jumpstart their effort to an acceptable level they can maintain for a full 48-minute game, they’re insane. It wasn’t happening when Davis was around prior to his injury, and the exclusion of DeAndre Jordan and the inclusion of the energetic Stanley Johnson won’t be enough on its own to have AD be the easy fix.
It’s frustrating for this to still be an issue for the team 47 games into the season. We can criticize what Vogel, Westbrook, and Bradley have done this season until we’re blue in the face, but the continued lack of urgency may be the most impactful problem with this team. Multiple players on the team wouldn’t be criticizing the whole group’s effort this consistently if it wasn’t at least a mild issue.
We can hope for the loss against the Heat to be a turning point in terms of their effort level, but looking back through a season full of embarrassing efforts, maybe that hope is foolish.
Maybe this is just who this team is, and all these quotes are just another instance of a year-long broken record that won’t stop sk-sk-sk-skipping until the Lakers fall extremely short of their preseason goals.