2. Can the Los Angeles Lakers re-summon their defense-first identity?
In their final preseason game against the Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers trailed at halftime 69-56. They started the second half with the lineup of James, Caldwell-Pope, Matthews, Davis, and Gasol. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers clawed back, and it was a one-point game.
On offense, they relied on a hot shooting night by Davis. On defense, this five-some reminded the viewers that the Lakers could still be a dominant defensive force.
There are fair reasons to be skeptical about the Lakers’ defense. James, in his 18th season, might prefer to take defensive possessions off à la in his second Cleveland stint. Their best defensive lineup will still require Davis to play at center — a card Vogel will not frequently deploy until the playoffs. Schröder and Harrell are replacing the more defensively-oriented Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard. This is a more offensively-skewed roster than a defensive one.
But that does not mean this roster has suddenly lost its defensive prowess. Much of their defensive core from last season is intact. It is up to Vogel to find the right balance.
Lineups such as the one above (which did not see a single minute during their season opener) have the potential to remind us of what the Lakers can do when they decide to turn their defense up a notch.
There are no easily exploitable weaknesses. Run any actions involving their perimeter players, the Lakers can comfortably switch with James, Matthews, and Davis. Any crack in their defense can be erased by James and Davis patrolling the backline, shrinking the court with their length and defensive acumen.
So, as a defensive-minded coach, how will Vogel find that balance?
Finally, speaking of the Lakers being more skewed towards offense than defense…