An hour-and-a-half before the Lakers tipped off against the Pelicans in New Orleans, head coach Frank Vogel made it clear to the media that he wasn’t expecting his team to get blown out again like they did in the two teams’ first meeting this season. Vogel said the Lakers “basically gave the game” to New Orleans a month ago because of how sloppy his team was coming out of the NBA All-Star break.
He all but guaranteed it wouldn’t happen again, for one simple reason.
“I think our team psyche is different than where we were at that point in time. I feel good about the way we’re playing offensively, the rhythm we have,” Vogel said.
He was half right: The Lakers waited until the second half to give the game away this time. Because after LeBron James overcame a first-quarter ankle tweak to use an array of ridiculously deep threes to help the Lakers lead by 20 points after the first 24 minutes of action, their eventual 116-108 loss was a reminder that despite their renewed enthusiasm, this is in many ways still the same flawed Lakers team we’ve watched all year.
The Lakers’ once-commanding lead evaporated to as little as two points in the third quarter as the team’s collection of flawed defensive lineups featuring Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony got blasted over and over in the same ways while Vogel stood and watched. Then Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker and James barfed up bad shots down the stretch to require more stops just to have a chance to hold on. But this Lakers team doesn’t get stops, so they lost.
If that sounds familiar to you, congrats on watching a Lakers game already this season. This team has been broadcasting reruns since December.
This defeat now leaves the Lakers and Pelicans tied in the loss column at 43, and with New Orleans clinching the season series (currently up 2-0) with this win, any hopes of the Lakers hosting even a single play-in game are pretty much dead, even with these two sides set to play one more time next week. The only thing at stake in that game now, likely, will be whether the Pelicans can knock L.A. out of the play-in tournament entirely and get the San Antonio Spurs instead.
It is not an overstatement to say that this may be the single-most damaging Lakers loss of the year, considering the stakes, the blown 20-point halftime lead, and the fact that L.A. could have had a two-game lead in the loss column over New Orleans had they held on to win. If their psyche really is different, we’ll just have to take Frank Vogel’s word for it, because this team’s issues with effort, lack of talent and poor coaching are still the same as they’ve always been.