Los Angeles Lakers forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the keys to the team’s turnaround since the trade deadline. He’s played an instrumental role in a 5-3 stretch that has put the Lakers firmly in the conversation to enter the postseason picture.
But the team still has plenty more work to do, as with 18 games left they still sit in the No. 11 spot in the Western Conference. They are one game back of the 10th-seeded New Orleans Pelicans and No. 9 Utah Jazz, and two games back of the No. 8 L.A. Clippers, however.
Vanderbilt did not hold back when discussing the urgency the Lakers have to show over their final stretch of games if they want to make noise. “I think it’s gonna be tough but we’re very capable of it. We just got to have that mentality every single night like we’re fighting for our lives because we basically are at this point. Just having that mentality going into the game and all 48 minutes,” Vanderbilt said.
“I feel like they were the hungrier team tonight, they hit first and they played like their season was on the line and I think we need to do the same,” Vanderbilt said of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. “Even with the schedule coming up, we’re playing some teams that are in that same little race that are one, two or three games apart. So I think this is a very pivotal stretch for us, I think we just need to lock in and pick up the intensity, the urgency and effort for all 48 minutes like how we did to finish the game.”
Injuries to both LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell has increased the difficulty of L.A.’s chase. However, Vanderbilt trusts the Lakers can figure out how to score with more consistency without them.
“Yeah, we’re still trying to figure it out. Having those two guys out, they’re very vital to our offense. Playmakers that can score the ball and facilitate so we definitely miss them in that aspect. But just trying to learn how to play without them.
“Like I said, since I’ve been here I feel like we’ve just been trying to figure out lineups. We’ve played some games with Bron, without Bron, without DLo, with just AD, so it’s been kind of presenting something different every single game. So just trying to feed off each other and just find ways that we can find offense, consistent offense.”
The Lakers are hopeful to have Russell back in the lineup soon, as he has already started practicing with the “stay ready” team doing full live-action work. But until then, the Lakers have some vital games coming up that they must figure out a way to win.
Vanderbilt’s defense will continue to be a monumental part of what the team does in the absence of two All-Star point guards. If he — alongside Anthony Davis — can be leaders on defense and with the intangibles of effort and hustle, the Lakers should be able to compete against any team.
Darvin Ham: Lakers shouldn’t struggle to stay locked in
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham was honest in his assessment of the team’s energy, saying that there shouldn’t be any reason for them to not be fully locked in during these final 18 games.
Playing for the Lakers in a close playoff race, Ham says, is plenty of motivation on its own.
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