The Lakers suffered a 22-point loss, 108-86, at the hands of the fifth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fl. on Wednesday.
“We’ve been out four and a half months and we played extremely great basketball before the layoff,” started Lakers’ superstar LeBron James after Wednesday’s game. “We implemented a couple guys into the system that have not been with us the whole season. We lost two of our guys, one that’s not making the trip at all and then Rondo being hurt who is a big part of our team as well, our nucleus.
“We’re just trying to fit everybody in, trying to do it on the fly but at the same time get our legs back up underneath us, get our system back in place try to speed the process for the guys that haven’t been with us in Dion and J.R. and then go out on the floor and try to implement that as great as we can,” continued James.
Despite the mounting list of recent accolades, the Lakers have had a glaring problem on offense. Los Angeles has shot poorly from both the field and from distance with an inability to seemingly get into any type of offensive rhythm. In fact, the team has shot 40.1 percent from the field and a mere 23.3 percent from deep.
“We just got to continue to look for better shot quality. We’re continuing to miss open looks which is leading to some frustration,” Vogel reflected. When asked about his level of concern about the Lakers’ having the worst offense since the NBA restart, he responded, “Clearly, yes we have to be playing better offensively than we’re playing right now.”
Over the course of the Lakers’ first three seeding games prior to the Thunder loss, the team has accomplished some monumental feats including clinching the No. 1 seed in the stacked Western Conference which secured the team’s first playoff appearance in six seasons. The Lakers also surpassed 50 wins making it the first 50-win season for the franchise since the late Kobe Bryant won a championship during the 2010-2011 season.
This loss stacks up as less meaningful since the Lakers have already secured the No. 1 seed. On the night, the team went 5-for-37 from the three-point line and the struggles span from the starters to the bench.
James is leading the league in assists (10.3) and only had four on the night to go along with his 19 points and 11 rebounds, a further reflection of the team’s scoring woes. While Vogel expressed concern, James was adamant that he and his teammates put in enough hard work during the hiatus and over the first half of the season to see shots start to fall sooner rather than later.
“When you put in the work, you’re okay with the result, make or miss,” stated James. “We’ve all put in the work. I know my guys have put in the work, I know I’ve put in the work so make or miss you could be okay with the results.”
Anthony Davis echoed James’ confidence that this is just a slump that the Lakers will wake up from. After Davis’s 42-point performance against the Utah Jazz, he shot 3-for-11 from the field and added just nine points with eight rebounds and five assists to the stat sheet against the Thunder.
“Offense is going to come around,” he said matter-of-factly.
Team defense was the saving grace for the Lakers to not extend the deficit on Wednesday night. The Lakers held the Thunder to just 43 percent shooting from the field led by Danilo Gallinari, who had 19 points with seven rebounds and a vintage Chris Paul who led all scorers with 21 points to go along with six assists and seven rebounds.
“We just try to keep our defensive intensity up, especially when we have games like this,” Davis commented. “We want to still make sure that we’re giving a lot of energy on the defensive end. We know guys are going to make shots when they play us, but if we continue to do the right things defensively, we’ll be fine.”
With the Portland Trail Blazers looking more like the Lakers’ first-round playoff opponent, the Lakers will need to find consistent shooting from the likes of Green, Kyle Kuzma, or the new additions in Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith to combat the scoring tandem in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Trail Blazers are one game back from the Memphis Grizzlies in the hunt for the eighth seed.
“We talked about on the bench that we’re happy that it’s going on now and not later in the playoffs,” said Davis. “But at some point in time, we’re going to have a game where we make 20/25 threes and be able going from there. We just got to stay the course and keep shooting the basketball.”
Despite the Lakers’ inefficiency on offense, Los Angeles is still in a great position to make a deep playoff push considering the start is less than two weeks away. For now, the Lakers will turn their attention to arguably the best one-two scoring combo in Russell Westbrook and James Harden as the team prepares to face the Rockets on Thursday in their only back-to-back of the NBA seeding games.