Improbably, through multiple coaches, dozens of players, different playstyles and multiple iterations of the Lakers, the one common foe that has continued to derail the team has not been an opposing player or team, but third quarters.
There isn’t much logic to it, unless you subscribe to some wild belief that the cost of the Lakers winning a title was losing every third quarter LeBron James and Anthony Davis played in the years after. And it would be hard to disprove if you did believe as much.
Back in 2021, the Lakers spent much of November trying to figure out how to overcome third-quarter woes, a problem that flared up perhaps most memorably in a loss to the Wolves where they gave up a 30-4 run in the third period. Acknowledging the issue was not the problem for the Lakers as they did that, and maybe looked to have found some solutions to the problem at one point.
The Lakers, though, would still finish 20th in net rating in third quarters for that season. From a raw plus-minus standpoint, they were 22nd in the league, finishing a -96 in third quarters on the season.
Fast forward to 2022 and the problem persisted with a new coach and new roster. It continues to plague a bad team and cost them wins. And now, it’s as bad as it ever has been.
Through Monday’s win over Charlotte, the Lakers have a net rating of -11.9 in third quarters, second-worst in the league to only the Magic. They have been outscored by 121 points in third quarters this season, only one point away from being the worst margin in the league.
There isn’t one thing you can point to that has plagued the Lakers through that time because there has been so much change around the team over the last two years. This season specifically, the team is struggling mightily to shoot from range in the third, connecting on only 30.2% of it’s 3-pointers in the frame.
Defensively, they rank 28th in rating in third quarters. They rank 28th in offensive rating. They are 22nd in turnover percentage. They’re 23rd in rebound percentage. Just across the board, they’re a bad team in third quarters.
It means there is no simple fix to get them back on track. It’s a collective effort and widespread changes that need to come to how they approach the period as a whole coming out of the locker room.
To their credit, they’ve improved in recent contests. Over their last three games, they’re 13th in the league with a +2.3 net rating. The fact they’re been better in recent games and still rank nearly worst in the league overall also goes to show just how bad they have been most of the season.
Again, what’s the solution? It’s hard to pinpoint just one. Replicating their approach in recent games and weeks would help. However, the Lakers are a team that already has plenty of faults even without self-inflicted wounds — and the longer they continue to shoot themselves in the foot in third quarters, the more they’re going to set themselves back this season.