Three Things to Know: Can inconsistent Lakers find winning equation?

0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Can inconsistent Lakers find winning equation?

“Our biggest battle, our biggest problem this year is consistency. Once we take one step forward, we fall back and have a disappointing performance.”

Frank Vogel is right. He nailed his concern after his team’s latest embarrassing loss Thursday night. These Lakers seem to view the regular season with disdain, as if it was beneath them, and with that they are both inconsistent and not building the good habits that need to be instinct by the playoffs. Whether Vogel can rally his players to fix it — or whether he will be around long enough to get the chance — remains to be seen.

Tuesday night in Boston, the Lakers played downhill and had their best win of the season, handling the Celtics. Los Angeles took over half its shots at the rim that night (51%) and made a ridiculous 73.8% of them, leading to a 121.7 offensive rating. Those numbers are not sustainable, but they are the blueprint for what these Lakers need to do to win — they have to attack.

Two nights later in Memphis, it didn’t even look like the same team. Going against a Grizzlies team without Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, the Laker couldn’t manage a point per possession on offense and lost 108-95. Against the Grizzlies (with Stephen Adams in the paint), the Lakers took 40% of their shots at the rim (still a very high number) but hit just 57.1% of them. The Laker defense never left the hotel room.

Give the Grizzlies credit: They are young and they fight. They were not rolling over just because LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook are coming to town.

It was arguably the Lakers’ worst loss of the season, although there are plenty of candidates for that title. The Lakers look entitled; they don’t bring the fight every night. This was the kind of loss a coach on the hot seat can’t afford.

There are signs of improvement. As it has been all season, the Lakers are okay when LeBron is on the court — he was +2 in this game. They were -15 in the 11 minutes he was on the bench. Also, Los Angeles has a top-10 defense over the last eight games, and when they get stops and run they are a force.

But the stops are not consistent — this is not a roster built for elite defense, GM Rob Pelinka shifted toward an offense-first squad — and with it the transition game comes and goes. Nothing with these Lakers is consistent.

Is that because this entitled LeBron-led team isn’t interested in December basketball?

Is it because the players have tuned out Frank Vogel?

Is it because we are seeing this roster for what it really is?

The correct answer may well be “all of the above.”

Whatever the reasons, the preseason title favorites are 13-13 and look a long, long way from threatening Golden State or Phoenix in a seven-game series.

2) After Jazz handle 76ers, Rudy Gobert responds to Beverley, ANT

The Utah Jazz are 18-7, have the second-best net rating in the NBA this season — and the best over the last 10 games — plus boast the No. 1 offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense. Yet they don’t get mentioned with Golden State and Phoenix as contenders in the West, because there remains a “sure, but we saw them melt in the playoffs last season” attitude about this squad. I can argue that last year’s Jazz were not healthy (no Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell playing on one leg) and they have adjusted and fixed their issues, but the truth is this team will not be judged on its regular season.

That said, they are killing it this regular season.

The latest victims were the Philadelphia 76ers. The Jazz had eight players score in double figures — led by Mitchell with 22, 17 of those in the first half when he was a force — and they hit 15-of-40 from 3 as a team. The 76ers could not keep up.

More interestingly, after the game in his walk-off interview, Rudy Gobert was asked about comments from Patrick Beverley and Anthony Edwards calling out his defense the night before.

“When you’re the best in the world at something, people become insecure.”

Well played, Rudy.

3) Raptors president Masai Ujiri Pacers coach Rick Carlisle latest to test positive for coronavirus

After Thanksgiving, the NBA increased its COVID testing of players and, not surprisingly, with that more players and staff have gone into the league’s health and safety protocols. Being vaccinated — as 97% of players are — is not a shield from getting the disease, it just makes it far less likely a person gets severely ill or passes it along to another.

Two big staff names tested positive in recent days.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has tested positive and said in a statement it likely comes from the Giants of Africa event he attended Sunday, which ended up having guests who tested positive (despite being in compliance with public health guidelines, according to Ujiri). He said he is self-isolating at home and is monitoring his symptoms.

“We don’t want to live in fear of this virus, but COVID is a persistent enemy,” Ujiri said in a statement. “Together, we’ll defeat it.”

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle also tested positive and will not be on the bench Friday when Indiana faces Dallas (Carlisle’s former team). He could be out longer, depending upon testing.

Both the Raptors and Pacers canceled practice on Thursday, with both citing “an abundance of caution.”

Highlight of the Night: Joel Embiid goes coast-to-coast

How many big men in the history of the game could do this: Grab the rebound, push the ball up the court themselves in transition, blow by their man and dunk before the defense is set? Hassan Whiteside is helpless to stop Embiid here.

Last night’s scores:

Utah 118, Philadelphia 96
Memphis 108, Lakers 95
San Antonio 123, Denver 111