Lakers

Takeaways From the Lakers’ Loss to the Thunder We Can’t Ignore

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Many Lakers fans will look at the team’s 105-86 loss to the Thunder and say things like: “I don’t care” or “It means nothing” or “We already clinched the No. 1 seed.” They might even say all three.

But there’s much to dissect from this lackluster, effortless performance by the best team in the Western Conference. Wednesday’s outing wasn’t just the team’s second bubble loss, it was also the first time this season LA never led at any point during the game, per ESPN stats and info.

And with four seeding games remaining before the playoffs, there’s a few things Frank Vogel and his guys need to address.

Keep shooting your shot

The Lakers shot an abysmal 5-37 from three against Oklahoma City Wednesday night. Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green each knocked down two and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made the other one. They’re shooting just 25 percent from beyond the arc as a team in the bubble, so far. Third-year forward Kuzma leads the team with a 50 percent clip from deep on 11-22 shooting.

For Green, a veteran known as a three-and-D player, the two made triples were a relief for LakersNation. He had missed his previous 11 attempts before the basketball Gods cut him a break with 6:07 left in the second frame. The looks have been there for the two-time NBA champ—he just needs to keep shooting and they’ll fall.

For what it’s worth, the looks from deep have been there for the entire team. They do a good job of making the extra pass. Playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis creates many opportunities, too. Though the two superstars combined to go 0-8 against the Thunder themselves.

And with James now reportedly out for Thursday’s game against Houston with groin soreness, there will be more shots to go around.

Still, the Lakers are 19th in the NBA in three-point shooting this season. Not an impressive ranking, but not bad considering they sit atop the West at 51-16. Shots will fall, they just need to keep shooting, and with no hesitation. Something that could help them is a lineup change.

Bench McGee

The 32-year-old JaVale McGee has started 64 of the Lakers’ 67 games this season. But enough is enough. Despite being a 13-year veteran, McGee continues to struggle defending pick-and-rolls. He’s also late on rotations more often than not, and can only guard the center position.

Offensively, he clogs the lane and simultaneously negates any possible floor spacing for the Lakers. You can’t play him and Davis together because there’s no room for AD to operate in the post with McGee’s defender lurking on help side. There’s no room for James to attack the rim, either.

Vogel hinted at a possible lineup change following Wednesday’s loss.

Replacing McGee with Markieff Morris makes the most sense because he can guard multiple positions and is a viable threat on the perimeter. Morris doesn’t look to create his own shots too often, which is why continuing to bring Kuzma off the bench would help the Lakers’ second unit.

Finalize the rotation

OK, coach, you’re up. Your team locked up the No. 1 seed in the West. You have two top-10 players at your disposal. Above all else, you have a guy in James who prior to last season, appeared in eight-straight NBA Finals. All you have to do is not mess this up.

To do so, or rather not do so, means consistently playing only these four guys off the bench: Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters, Dwight Howard and the aforementioned Kuzma.

Reserve point guard Caruso has been the Lakers best perimeter defender in the bubble so far. This isn’t new news, however, as he’s been defending at a high level all season. Often times, we see him make a play on one end of the floor that he then finishes on the other end.

Pairing Caruso with Waiters provides the Lakers bench with two ball handlers who have contrasting but complementary offensive games. Caruso is an athletic slasher who can catch-and-shoot and also create shots for teammates.

Waiters can also do the latter, notably in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop action. He can be a slouch on defense, at times. But the first-year Laker can get his own shot whenever he wants and effectively run an offense. This why Vogel needs to avoid playing him and James together.

As long as one of either Waiters or James is on the court, LA will have someone who can lead the offense and effectively get others involved.

As for Dwight Howard, he should serve as Davis’ backup and hopefully, his backup only. The last thing the Lakers need is to play the two bigs together and cluster the lane as they currently do. And with Howard in over McGee, LA gets a bit more scoring and rebounding and about the same rim protection. All this while Kuzma plays in either the three or four slot.

No other Lakers should be seeing any meaningful minutes right now as the postseason nears. So the next time Vogel decides to give JR Smith some first-half burn or Quinn Cook some early third quarter time, he shouldn’t.

What he should focus on is perfecting his rotation to give his guys a chance to get in rhythm and build some momentum going into what should be a long, intense run to a championship.

Play small, and shots will fall. You got this, coach. LakersNation is counting on you.

Follow us on Twitter @LakersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight.

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About Sandeep Chandok

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