The Los Angeles Lakers are returning to the Western Conference Finals after a 10-year break thanks to their impressive playoff run in the Orlando bubble. L.A. shrugged off the rust early in the NBA restart and then bounced back twice from Game 1 losses in the postseason, showing confidence in their ability to adjust and dominate the opponent.
The defense, third-best in the regular season, continues to be the driving force. Head coach Frank Vogel said it was key in neutralizing two of the league’s fiercest offenses, the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets, heaping praise on his team for their defensive effort.
“I’m really proud of our whole team, beginning with our captains, but really top to bottom our whole roster’s commitment to the defensive end,” Vogel said following the Game 5 victory over Houston. “Our verticality and rim protection was just special.
“From the beginning of the season our group has really committed to that end of the floor and it’s paying dividends right now.”
The defense allows the Lakers to thrive on offense; L.A. appear to be the bubble’s most balanced and are boasting the best net rating of the playoffs. But it would have not been possible without the numerous in-game adjustments Vogel was introducing as the two playoff series went on, particularly after falling short in each Game 1.
But Vogel refused to take all the credit for those key roster changes and instead highlighted his team’s unique adaptability and player leadership. “They’ve got a great ability to figure things out,” he said.
“That’s the No. 1 thing for me. We’ve had really productive film sessions to tweak the plan or strengthen the plan each time we’ve played a game in these playoffs. We continue to get better as the series goes along. Hopefully, that will continue.”
Vogel added he never lost confidence in the Lakers as even the early struggles they endured were to be expected considering the length of the hiatus the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused. “It just takes a little time to gel,” Vogel said.
“And obviously when we played the first three games, clinched the No. 1 seed, we began getting a lot of guys a lot of work. There was a little bit of unfamiliarity and trying to work guys in and whatnot.
“I’m excited about what we can accomplish going forward, not just what we’ve accomplished thus far.”
James says Lakers ‘hitting stride the right time’
Despite the struggles early in the NBA restart, the entire Lakers has roster improved significantly since the beginning of the playoffs. Even though LeBron James and Anthony Davis initially carried L.A. on their shoulders, their teammates soon starting matching their effort, particularly in the Rockets series.
Markieff Morris, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, and Kyle Kuzma have all put in impressive shifts off the bench after registering a noticeable form surge. And James thinks L.A. are peaking at exactly the right time.
“We had some good months, we had some great months, we had a couple weeks we were not that good defensively, but we’re hitting our stride at the right time,” the three-time NBA champion said.
“I think for us we continue to get better and better throughout this postseason run so far, and we want to continue that going into the next round.”
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