Lakers perceived strength has become Achilles' heel

The Lakers lack of depth is a massive problem against the Nuggets.
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers face a 3-0 deficit to the defending champion Nuggets, which feels insurmountable after Thursday’s loss. It is the same game every time. The Lakes get ahead early, but Denver comes back in the second half to win. No matter what they do, the Nuggets have LA’s number. Nikola Jokic and company have won 11 straight meetings, including last season’s sweep in the conference finals.

How did the Lakers get here? It would be easy to blame injuries, but LeBron James and Anthony Davis were healthy. Each of their top five players in minutes per game appeared in 71 or more contests. Rob Pelinka and their front office brought back virtually the same roster from last year’s run. The biggest addition was Gabe Vincent replacing Dennis Schroder. They bet on their depth being enough, and the Lakers even stood pat at the trade deadline.

Their belief has cost them as head coach Darvin Ham has nowhere to turn with his rotation. The Lakers need more talent, but just don’t have it. He has eight players for his playoff rotation, but cannot play three guards together. It makes finding the right combinations difficult and has certainly cost LA in this series.

Lakers depth has gone from strength to fatal flaw

D’Angelo Russell was arguably LA’s third-most important player this season, but he has struggled in the playoffs. The 6’3 guard is shooting just 32.6 percent from the field and went scoreless in Game 3. Russell cannot make a shot and has never been known for his defense.

The Lakers benched him in the fourth quarter on Thursday night. A team with depth would have had options, but Ham went with Spencer Dinwiddie, who did not score a point in the first two games in this series, for the final 3:47 of a must-win contest.

Coach Ham deserves plenty of blame. He has been outcoached in this series by Michael Malone, but the front office did not give him enough to work with.

Taurean Prince was the team’s only bench player to score in the first two games. Gabe Vincent and Dinwiddie are playing, but not contributing. They have gotten 36 bench points in the first three contests with 24 of them coming from Prince. Add it to the mountain of reasons why Denver had dominated every second half and is up 3-0 in this series.

The Lakers lack of depth is forcing LeBron James to play 40-plus minutes each night, and the 39-year-old has nothing left in the tank at the end.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Lakers fans should just hope to get a victory on Saturday to extend the series, but even that feels unlikely. This could be another sweep as the Nuggets are the superior team in nearly every facet.

The Los Angeles Lakers face several franchise-altering questions (subscription required) this summer. Does Darvin Ham return as head coach? Does LeBron James opt out and become a free agent? How do the Lakers improve their roster around their two stars?  

Add depth issues to their long list of offseason problems to solve. Pelinka and the front office must upgrade their roster if they want to get back to title contention. They have three tradable first-round draft picks, but is that enough? Expect the Lakers to get aggressive and try.