The Los Angeles Lakers have picked up right where they left off in the bubble just a few short months ago. As of when this was written, the Lakers are currently tied with the locker room rival Clippers for the best record in the NBA at 13-4.
Perhaps what is most impressive about the team’s hot start is that they continue to be perfect on the road. In fact, the Lakers 9-0 record away from Staples Center is indicative of a franchise record. Certainly, little to no fans are allowed at arenas still because of the pandemic, but it is nevertheless an impressive feat.
While the standings are rather impressive, indeed, the Lakers have plenty of room for improvement. This might sound crazy given that the squad leads the NBA in average point differential per game (+10.0), let alone possessing the best one-two punch as well.
Despite both of those factors, though, the Lakers have looked somewhat vulnerable of late.
One noteworthy issue on display has been the Los Angeles Lakers’ inability to sustain big leads.
For instance, as Matt Peralta of Lakers Nation recollected, the purple and gold got a little too cozy during Saturday night’s meeting against Chicago. Suffice to say, it was a tale of two halves in every sense of the term.
In the first half, LA played about as dominant as they have all season long. Upon intermission, they had a commanding 30-point advantage, whilst only allowing the Bulls to score 33 points of their own.
Be that as it may, the Lakers’ sense of urgency took a major hit thereafter. By the end of the third stanza alone, the team’s colossal lead was nearly cut in half. They enabled the Bulls to match how many points they had gotten in the first two quarters due to very sloppy, uninspired play.
The Lakers did eventually polish off their opponent and did end up winning by a double-digit margin in the process. However, it is hard to not argue that an 11-point victory loses some degree of clout when a 30-point lead was once held.
Sure, on the one hand, some folks may chalk this up as a “W” and thenceforth casually say “a win is a win.” The latter adverb “casually” in itself, though, is curious due to how the Lakers sometimes conduct themselves on the hardwood.
For a team hoping to win back-to-back titles, improvement in terms of sustaining leads is a must. There are no ifs, ands, and buts about it.
Per Peralta, head coach Frank Vogel is more than aware of this current Lakers’ problem and agrees that his group needs to get “better.”
"“We’ve got to be better. That’s the simplest way to put it. Last game we gave up a lead, we lost,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said.“We talked about that at halftime, we came out and didn’t play the third quarter the way we were supposed to and really approach that whole second half the way we’re supposed to. So we’ll learn from it and hopefully get better next time.“Hopefully we’re going to be up again by 20 to 30 at halftime at some point and we’ll draw back on this experience, knowing we didn’t do well enough and we have to be better in the future.”"
For what it is worth, the Lakers are perhaps a tad lucky they were able to initially build as big of a lead as they did against Chicago. It proved to be too little, too late for the Eastern Conference team, but the fact remains that L.A. let them get back into the game.
Taking a team for granted is a dangerous practice and Vogel is right on the money in saying the last time the Lakers lost a lead, the result was not pretty.
The specific game Vogel called attention to was the losing effort to Golden State last Monday. For the vast majority of the match, the Lakers appeared to have a victory within arm’s reach.
However, the purple and gold coughed up what at one point was a 19-point advantage. Instead of sustaining and building upon what was a solid first half, they let the Warriors crawl back into this one.
Unfortunately, with just a few minutes remaining in the final quarter, Golden State took over and never looked back. The final result ended up being close, but close does not cut it at this level.
At the end of the day, the Lakers have still managed to enjoy a fine campaign thus far. While that is true, the next step for this talented roster will boil down to developing a wire-to-wire mentality.
The Lakers have demonstrated time and time again that they can have spurts where they look practically unbeatable. The aforementioned first half against the Bulls is a perfect example of that.
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Nonetheless, the team has also shown on various occasions a certain laziness for the lack of a better term. It is almost like they get bored with their opponent, which is borderline disrespectful to themselves, let alone who they are playing against.
Irrespective of a team’s record, it is essential to keep the foot planted on the gas pedal until the final buzzer. Marquee contests against teams like Milwaukee cannot be the sole occurrences where greater effort is shown. Playing in spurts is not a winning formula for a franchise hoping to obtain a record-setting 18th championship.
It is worth noting that the Lakers have only played about 25 percent of their games. Therefore, there is reason to believe the team will adjust the loose screws as the season wears on.
Speaking of which, it is not like the Lakers are a disheveled machine ready to crumble. That is the furthest thing from true. Simply put, they need to start instilling within themselves a proper frame of mind.
The talent this team possesses is more than evident. One could easily make the argument this group is every bit as stacked as last year’s team. Consistent effort is key, though, and once the Lakers nail down that aspect, one can conjecture that their current inability to sustain huge leads will become irrelevant.