The start of the NBA playoffs is just around the corner, although the Los Angeles Lakers are still trying to recapture their form from before the shutdown that helped them earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Lakers were defeated by the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, dropping to 2-4 in their seeding games thus far. LeBron James had his best performance in Orlando, scoring 31 points to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists on 13-of-24 shooting in 35 minutes, but the Lakers’ role players have still struggled around him.
One thing that has been noticeable in these seeding games is that head coach Frank Vogel is still searching for rotations that work. He has used 10 or 11 players in every game so far, with every player on the roster getting an opportunity at one point or another.
Against the Pacers it was Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley and rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, and Vogel was impressed with what he saw from that trio as he continues experimenting with different lineups to evaluate players.
“We’re continuing to look at different guys. Tonight was Talen, Quinn Cook and Dudz turn to get some significant minutes. I thought all three of those guys played really well. I thought our general feel and flow offensively was the best it’s been in a few games,” Vogel said.
“This stretch where we’re basically playing elite defenses in the first five games — and a unique defense with Houston if they’re not ranked high — it’s going to strengthen us. There’s been some struggles that have been a little bit frustrating but playing against great defenses is the best way to prepare and tighten up all your execution pieces. Really optimistic with how we looked offensively and about the game overall.”
With two seeding games remaining this upcoming week before the start of the postseason, Vogel still plans to use different lineups. “Just continue to experiment,” he reiterated.
“We have a like week between the Nuggets game and our first playoff game. Like I said, I have an idea of what that rotation is going to look like. There’s still going to be some evaluation over the next two games. We’ll get through this Denver game, then we’ve got two days before the Sacramento game. We’ll figure out how to best manage that game in terms of rest, rhythm and all those types of things.”
With that being said though, it appears Vogel may already have an idea of what his postseason rotation will look like.
“We’ll continue to evaluate and use these next two games to look at different things. I’ve got a good feel for what our playoff rotation is going to look like, but there’s some wiggle room, and we’re going to continue to evaluate,” he said.
One aspect of the game where the Lakers have really struggled this season is with James on the bench. That was against the case against the Pacers as he was a +13 in a five-point loss, meaning the team was outscored by 18 points in the 13 minutes he was off the floor.
Vogel looking to get Waiters, Smith and Morris more playing time
With Cook, Dudley and Horton-Tucker all seeing significant time in the Pacers game, newcomers Dion Waiters, JR Smith and Markieff Morris all didn’t see the court against the Pacers.
Vogel is hoping to get them more time in the final two seeding games. “It’s been a balancing act. There’s been bumps in the road with integration, like with any new player,” he said.
“Going with the guys we went with gave us a little more familiarity, and I thought it was important for our guys to find a rhythm with some of the guys they’re more familiar with and take a step back on integration with the new guys. I think we’ll probably return next game with them, but we’ll sleep on it, evaluate and see where we’re at.”
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