When the Los Angeles Lakers trotted out a starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Stanley Johnson, and DeAndre Jordan, fans were less than hopeful for a win against the high-powered Charlotte Hornets on Friday night. Frank Vogel was forced to play this group amid injuries to LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Malik Monk.
This group did about as well as expected, digging a 16-5 hole for the Lakers before the first sub was brought in at the six-minute mark. The bench unit crawled back into the game, but a late second-quarter run by the Hornets gave them a 16-point lead at halftime.
For a team missing its two best players and one of its most important role players, they could have folded for the night and given up down 16 at halftime. Instead, Vogel’s team came storming back in the second half, tying things up by the end of the third quarter and playing a fully competitive fourth.
They ultimately lost 117-114, but Vogel commended the team — and especially the guys who were normally out of the rotation — for helping lead a massive comeback. “We wanted to come into tonight’s game with a real positive spirit, a real positive attitude. We were a little bit outside ourselves in the Philly game. We didn’t play well enough and there was some frustration showing,” Vogel said of the locker room.
“We just wanted our group to bring a positive attitude knowing that we’re going to have a lot of guys that don’t normally play get opportunities to get in there and we knew it might be a little bit bumpy early and it was, but our guys grinded through. I thought Deandre [Jordan], Wayne [Ellington], Baze and Trevor [Ariza], guys that have not been in the normal rotation and all contributed at a high level and were a big part of giving us a chance to win this one.”
Overall, Vogel praised the entire locker room, but specifically Russell Westbrook, for not letting frustrating creep in amid a difficult stretch. “I was honestly very proud of them because we were a frustrated team last night. You can become disconnected. I’ve seen it throughout this league over the years. Frustration creeps in and you start separating and this may be a game we needed where we got to get a lot of guys in there in the fight with us. There was great perseverance, there was a positive attitude and a positive spirit to how our guys played.
“You guys weren’t in the huddles and anything, but I want to credit Russ for really being locked in mentally in the first half when it wasn’t going our way. In a positive way, showing a lot of leadership of being very vocal. We got to do this, we got to do that, we got to get this coverage right, we got to rebound the basketball. Set these screens at these angles. He was very determined tonight and even though it showed up in the second half, the determination with his leadership in the first half.”
With Friday night’s loss, the Lakers are now two games below .500 50 games into the season. This is obviously not where they thought they would be at this point, but they have to play with the cards they were dealt.
Perhaps the comeback against the Hornets can teach the team an important lesson about staying engaged even when things aren’t going well. L.A. has had a habit this season of folding in difficult situations. If they can remove that from their identity, a turn-around is absolutely possible.
James, Davis day-to-day
After both missing Friday’s Hornets loss, Vogel is hopeful that James and Davis can return to the lineup in their next game against the Atlanta Hawks.
“Day-to-day with both of those guys,” Vogel said. “Hopefully we get them both back, but we’ll have to see how their injuries are responding.”
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