After a four-month hiatus, several NBA teams entered the Bubble coming off a red hot winning streak. One of them, is most notably, the Los Angeles Lakers, who were on an 11-2 roll before the hiatus.
Despite four months of limited basketball activities, multiple reports emerged of the Lakers secretly practicing drills in a safe manner. With their success in the paint, fast break, and two superstars, there was little doubt that Los Angeles would continue their success. However, that has not been the case during their time in the bubble, especially coming off a three-game losing streak.
Do these Bubble woes give any Laker fan a reason to panic with the playoffs a week away?
Los Angeles Lakers NBA Bubble Woes
First Two Games
In their first game from the hiatus, the Lakers clearly showed some rust despite defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101. However, Anthony Davis still showed his consistency in the paint, scoring 34 points and going 16 of 17 from the foul line. LeBron James finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, including the go-ahead put-back layup with just under 13 seconds left.
On the other end, Paul George was red hot from the field, scoring 30 points while teammate Kawhi Leonard added 28. Despite James’s solid lockdown defense to shut down the Clippers’ dynamic duo as time expired, the Lakers struggled offensively. They went 1 for 10 to end the first half and started 0 for 9 to open the third quarter. However, this was expected after four months without legitimate action.
As for their second game against the Toronto Raptors, they simply did not show up. The Lakers have struggled against the reigning champions, with their last victory dating back to November of 2014 at Staples Center. Toronto exposed the Lakers, shutting down both Davis and James, who scored a combined 34 points. The bench did help them get back into the game, but struggled offensively, shooting a season-low 35.4 percent from the field. Kyle Lowry had a solid performance, scoring 33 points and grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds.
Toronto has shown why they are the reigning champs and can very much repeat this season. However, there is no excuse for poor execution offensively, especially on nights when your best players struggle.
Poor Three-Point Shooting
Entering the NBA bubble, the Lakers have struggled with shooting from behind the arc. They were ranked 24th in three-point percentage at only 34.6 percent. In the bubble, they are dead last, shooting a measly 28.3 percent from behind the arc. That includes a poor shooting performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder when the Lakers only shot 13.5 percent behind the arc in an embarrassing 105-86 loss. You do not deserve to win if you can’t shoot that low at any level, let alone in the NBA.
Los Angeles is not doing any better shooting wise as a whole. They are dead last in all shooting categories, including points per game (just under 104) and field goal percentage (42.9 percent). Kyle Kuzma is starting to regain his confidence and showing that he can be that “Big 3” missing puzzle piece next to Davis and James. Dion Waiters is averaging 10.7 points off the bench and Quinn Cook had a solid game against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 21 points. Dwight Howard is contributing defensively and also adds some offensive value as the backup center to JaVale McGee.
However, if the Lakers want to excel in the postseason, they have to work on executing their offense and shooting, since more teams will continue to double team Davis and James can only do so much in his position.
Lack of Accountability and Enthusiasm
Multiple reports across the media have speculated some locker room issues and other discussions on what is going on behind closed doors. While they are simply rumors or perhaps word of mouth, it is clear the Lakers are struggling with their chemistry during their time in the bubble.
During their crushing loss against the Indiana Pacers, NBA bubble standout T.J. Warren continued to expose teams, this time scoring 39 points off 15-22 shooting. He may be having an excellent restart, but after seeing the Pacers’ scoring success, you can see the disappointment across the Laker roster. They are not simply playing with enough fire, even after sealing the number one spot in the Western Conference. In a normal season, it is common to rest your starters with only a few games remaining.
However, just like 2020 as a whole, this season is not a typical one. The Lakers have been exposed offensively and defensively, which means that there is little time to work on their chemistry with the postseason a week away.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Recap
A clutch game-winning three-pointer from Kuzma helped the Lakers snap a three-game losing streak. Despite the hopeful Big 3 scoring 29 (James), 27 (Davis), and 25 (Kuzma), the Lakers had been outplayed by the Denver Nuggets’ bench until the final stretch.
During the third quarter, the Lakers took an 87-80 lead, until the Nuggets went on an 8-1 run to tie up the game heading into the fourth. Mason Plumlee, Bol Bol, and Monte Morris all made jump shots to tie it up. Those moments show the Nuggets’ roster depth, but also that the Lakers need to execute more as a team.
Within the last minute, James hit a three to give the Lakers a 121-119 lead with 45.7 seconds to go. Morris responds by making one free throw, with PJ Dozier earning the chance to give the Nuggets the lead. With 4.4 seconds left, he missed his second free throw. Kuzma grabbed the rebound, called a time out, and hit the game-winning three out of the timeout.
The victory gives the Lakers a 3-4 record in the bubble, adding their wins total to 52. As for the Nuggets, the loss currently sits in third place behind the Clippers as they square off against each other on Wednesday.
How to Succeed in the Postseason
Traditionally, working hard all season to achieve the first seed pays off since the top team can rest players and patch a few things up before they face the number eighth seed. They also earn home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
For this season, that is not the case. The Lakers are at a disadvantage with no home-court and an ambiguous eighth seed opponent. With only four days of action remaining, it is anyone’s game for the final seed. The Memphis Grizzlies currently hold the eighth seed, but the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, and San Antonio Spurs are all within two games from achieving the final spot.
This final week significantly impacts the Lakers’ first-round game plan heading into next week. Regardless, Los Angeles must improve their shooting, particularly from behind the arc and unite around James and Davis to give them that extra help. It is not ideal to have your superstars play 40 minutes a game, especially in the postseason. Kuzma must continue his hot streak and remain consistent on both sides of the ball. The bench must rally and continue to provide offensive support and the overall team must excel in perimeter defense.
If they do those tasks, they will be serious NBA Finals contenders and potentially bring the 17th title to Los Angeles. The Lakers close the 2019-20 season against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday, August 13th at 10:30 AM PST.
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