The Los Angeles Lakers are facing an uphill climb if they want to make the playoffs. The Lakers have lost six of their last eight to fall five games behind the Clippers and 4.5 games behind the Spurs for the seventh and eighth seeds in the Western Conference. The team is also 1.5 games behind the ninth-place Kings and the Timberwolves are just one game behind them.
The Lakers Made a Mistake
Inconsistent play, poor effort, defensive errors and bad coaching when it matters the most have made the Lakers hit rock bottom. Questionable decisions by management also played a part, particularly trading Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley to the Clippers for Mike Muscala. Zubac has made some solid contributions since joining the Clippers, averaging 8.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in nine games with them while Muscala has scored 16 points in five games with the Lakers.
After a comfortable 128-107 win over the Knicks on Sunday, Ivica Zubac mentioned a big difference he sees between playing for the Lakers and the Clippers:
“That’s how we gotta be. When I was with the Lakers, we didn’t have nights like this. Every game was a close game for us, but now with the Clippers, this team is really locked in, every possession against every team.”
In Zubac’s mind, most of the difference relates directly to effort and it’s hard to argue with him, the Clippers go all out win or lose and they beat the teams they’re supposed to beat while in the last five games the Lakers have costly road losses against inferior teams like the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Suns.
Zubac Is Getting Better
Positive Residual explained it clearly:
One of the more encouraging aspects of Ivica Zubac’s Clippers experience is his increased playmaking opportunities. He’s up to 65 passes per 36 minutes, up from 40. His assist rate has also risen from 7% to 16%, which translates to about 2 more dimes per 100 possessions.
Much of Ivica Zubac’s increased playmaking opportunities stem from the Clippers’ style of play. The Lakers had Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James and even Lance Stephenson running the offense, which is undoubtedly more facilitators than the Clippers have, so Zubac was in a position where his chances to create were non-existent. The Clippers are just better able to leverage Zubac’s fuller skill set.
Zubac also plays a more active role with the Clippers than he did with the Lakers. His minutes, as well as his touches are up (from 30 to 51 frontcourt touches per 36 minutes). The promising young center is also dribbling more per touch.
To me, the Lakers took a massive loss trading Ivica Zubac. The move was made so the Lakers could get an extra roster spot but they haven’t signed anyone with it yet. It was said that JaVale McGee had issues with his role and potentially not starting, which led to the Zubac trade.
I’m not sure the Lakers know what they’re doing, they gave Zubac and Beasley away for unequal compensation. Zubac is young and he played well when he got a chance, so the return for him should have been much greater. Losing him for so little is already haunting the Lakers.