The Lakers came into the All-Star break limping, losers of six out of their last eight game, which not only included losses to struggling teams like thee Wizards and Kings, but also featured losses by double-digit margins to contenders like the Jazz, Nets and even the Suns.
True, Anthony Davis has been out with a calf injury during this stretch, but it shows a disturbing lack of depth for a team that ranks among the top contenders for this season’s championship. Resiliency was a hallmark of this team last season, but it is in short supply, it seems, with this year’s bunch.
Still, the Lakers are 24-13 as we head into the second stretch of the season and now sit third in the Western Conference, and fifth in the NBA overall. There is plenty of time and plenty of reason to believe the Lakers will be just fine when the playoffs roll around in late May.
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We checked with NBA coaches, scouts and executives for what they’re looking for from the Lakers here in the upcoming second half, and we can sum up those thoughts in a handful of numbers.
Lakers Second-Half Stat 1: .515
That is, according to a formula used by Positiveresidual.com, the Lakers’ remaining strength of schedule, which ranks as the sixth-hardest in the NBA. That coincides with the Lakers having the fifth-easiest schedule in the NBA in the first half—put it all together and it is clear that L.A. is in for a difficult ride, schedule-wise, in the final two months of the season.
Western Conference assistant coach: “They have had a lot of games where they just did not look good, even in wins. That is what I got from watching tape of them. A lot of slow starts. Not great shooting. Not very cohesive defensively. And then they get a spark in the second half and beat teams, but they had OT games against Detroit, against Washington, against OKC twice. They have stretches in every game, they do not look like defending champs. You start playing really good teams in the second half, you’re going to lose those kinds of games.”
Lakers Second-Half Stat 2: 6
That is the number of players currently on the Lakers’ roster who were not on the team last year. That is out of 14 players—a pretty high percentage of new guys in purple-and-gold. With the trade deadline coming, that will increase.
Eastern Conference GM: “They need another player, maybe even two. They need a big guy and a perimeter guy. But then you start to wonder, are they going to have time to pull all of that together even if they do add those guys? There’s no practice time. They have not really integrated the guys they brought in last winter, how ae they going to do that when they add two more new guys?”
Lakers Second-Half Stat 3: 14.9%
That is how frequently the Lakers run pick-and-roll this season, which is 27th in the NBA, according to NBA.com stats. That is, essentially, the same frequency that they ran the play last season (14.7% of the time). With two excellent PNR players added in the offseason—point guard Dennis Schroder and center Montrezl Harrell—scouts figured that the Lakers would go to the play a lot more often, at least with their second unit. Hasn’t happened, and that’s caused some head-scratching across the league.
Western Conference scout: “I assumed, and I think a lot of us did, that they would change their offense, adapt to the new guys. Maybe they have not had the time. But they have two players who are in the top tier in the league at running pick-and-roll and they’re not doing it. Maybe they unleash that during the playoffs. We’re not seeing it much now.”
Lakers Second-Half Stat 4: 37.1%
It is an arbitrary number but it is significant in that it says a lot about whether the Lakers will win—when they shoot better than 37.1% from the 3-point line, L.A. has gone 11-2 this season. Below that? They’re very average, only 13-11. They’ve only topped 37.1% one time in the last three weeks, and that was in their final game of the first half, the loss to Sacramento.
Western Conference scout: “They do not have anyone who scares you as a shooter. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wes Matthews, those guys can go on nice runs, but run a body at them, and they’re easy to rattle. They did not have great shooters last year in the playoffs but the league has gotten better. They need someone who scares a defense.”
Lakers Second-Half Stat 5: 5
There were, really, only two other teams that had the potential to win a championship last season in the bubble—the Clippers and Milwaukee (maybe Houston if you bought into their smallball remake). This year, there’s shaping up to be five, with the Brooklyn Nets now the most prominent of the group. But the Sixers and Bucks are in the mix, as well as the Clippers and Jazz.
The Lakers might still be the favorite in the West, but no doubt, they’ve got a tougher road to a title this year.
Eastern Conference GM: “The league is just better this year. Utah is a better team than they were. The Clippers are tougher. And it is hard to see anyone beating the Nets. If I’m the Lakers, I am looking at a much, much more difficult path to a title.”