The Los Angeles Lakers, one of the favorites to win the Larry O’Brien trophy this year, began the NBA Bubble off with a rough start.
There were some doubts if the Purple & Gold could find their form in time for a deep run in the postseason. A month later, those doubts have been put aside as the top-seeded team booked their ticket to the Western Conference Finals, by dismantling the Houston Rockets 119-96 in game 5 of their second-round series. This marks their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 2010, the year they won their last championship – the 16th in franchise history.
In both playoffs rounds so far, the Lakers started off each series slowly, losing the first game against the Blazers in round one, and again losing game 1 against the Rockets in round two. After each loss, however, Lebron James and his teammates seemed to have turned it up as they won 4 straight games to close out both series in 5 games. They have certainly been spectacular so far in the playoffs and they have been living up to the hype that has surrounded the team since the season began.
What makes them so impressive in the playoffs?
1) Utilizing Their Strengths
There is no doubt that the Lakers are a strong team. They finished with the first seed in the Western Conference, and it definitely helps when they have two of the best players in the NBA – Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Aside from having individually strong players, they are even stronger as a team when all five of their guys are on the same page. What has been so impressive is that they know how their strengths, they use these strengths to their advantage and ultimately give their opponents so much trouble for a full 48 minutes.
One strength that can be noted is their dominance in the paint. Throughout the playoffs, the Lakers are by-far the best team in the paint, using their height and prowess to average 49.6 points in the paint per game, more than 3 points more than the next team in this category. They make it a point every game to be aggressive inside and opt for the higher percentage shots by the basket. Aside from paint scoring, they are also one of the best in terms of scoring off turnovers and fastbreak scoring. In the postseason rankings, the Purple & Gold are second in terms of points off turnovers and second in fastbreak points scored. They epitomize how great offense starts with great defense by forcing turnovers and pushing the ball up the floor to get a quick and easy basket before the opponent has a chance to set their defense.
These are just a few of the many strengths that the Lakers are using to their advantage in the postseason. Look for the Lakers to continue dominating in these categories, and even improve on their weaknesses as the playoffs go on.
2) Defensive Discipline
Another thing that has been unparalleled about the Lakers so far would be their discipline on defense.
Apart from their 2 losses in the playoffs, they looked like a machine as a team, locking down their opponents on the defensive end of the floor. Coach Frank Vogel has been lauded for his defensive tactics ever since his days as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, and it is seen with the 2020 playoff Lakers that this has not changed.
In the playoffs, the Lakers are in the top 3 in multiple defensive categories such as defensive rating, steals, opponents points in the paint, opponent’s fast break points, and they even lead the league in blocks in the postseason. But aside from all the defensive statistics on the box score, they have been outstanding in terms of things that are not seen on the stat sheet. Being able to stay in front of their man, not allowing straight line drives, having active hands in the passing lanes, rotating properly, and taking charging fouls are some of the more impressive things that can be seen from the Lakers defense.
These little things may not be seen on the box score, but these types of plays are always huge for a basketball team. If the Lakers can continue showing that type of discipline on the defensive end of the floor, they will surely have higher chances of holding the trophy at the end of the season.
3) Ability to Make Adjustments
One of the biggest things that can be observed from the first two rounds of the playoffs would be how the Lakers have the ability to make adjustments. In the postseason, with 7 games in a series, it is crucial that teams can make adjustments from game to game, and series to series. The Lakers have shown that they can do just that.
The most notable adjustment that the Lakers have made has been adjusting their line up in the middle or round two, reacting to the small ball Houston Rockets. Markieff Morris was inserted into the starting line up for game 4 of the series, opting to bench 7-foot center, Javale Mcgee. The smaller starting lineup seemed to have paid dividends for the Lakers, who cruised in games 4 and 5 to finish off the series against Houston. This shows how the team can be effective with multiple different line ups on the floor, which is essential in a deep playoff run.
Another noteworthy adjustment can be seen in how the Lakers bounced back after their game 1 losses in both rounds. The Purple & Gold changed up their game plans following their losses in each round and ended up winning 4 straight games to finish off each series. They really had to adjust their defensive strategies to counter the firepower offenses that they were facing. They were able to lock down or at least limit the superstars they faced such as Damian Lillard in the first round, then Harden and Westbrook in round two.
It was evident that the Lakers studied game film, and went to the drawing board to adjust to what they saw post game 1. They just need to continue adjusting and adapting to their opponents to continue finding success in the postseason.
4) Everyone is Doing Their Role
With basketball being a team sport, each component of the team must do their job in order for the team as a whole to find success. From the players to the coaching staff and even the trainers, it can be seen how they have worked very hard to be where they are now. Before the bubble started, there were concerns about how the team would fit together since Avery Bradley opted out, and there were some new additions like Dion Waiters and JR Smith. But two rounds into the playoffs, it has been stunning how each person seems to have embraced their roles in the team.
It starts with the leadership of Anthony Davis and Lebron James as they always do their job leading their team with such strong performances. To add to that, the coaching staff has been doing their role in analyzing the games and preparing the team each and every day. Another notable person who has been doing his role is Rajon Rondo. Even if he didn’t play in the first round, he has been huge in the second round being the court general he is, directing the team and handling the pace of the game.
The other role players such as Alex Caruso, Danny Green, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been doing their roles, defending the star guards of the opposing team, as well as knocking down their open shots when they get them. Markieff Morris and Kyle Kuzma have also been doing their jobs, coming in the game to give energy and spreading the floor to give the Lakers small ball options as well. Even rookie Talen Horton-Tucker has been doing his job, staying ready and coming into the game with his competitive and eager spirit.
The Lakers have been having so much success in the first two rounds because everyone seems to have embraced their roles, and the whole team has their eyes on one goal.
With how impressive they have been so far, yhey must stay persistent to be able to contend for the 17th title in franchise history.
Featured Image: Michael Reeves/nba.com