The Los Angeles Lakers extended their winning streak to five games and remained undefeated against sub-.500 teams by defeating the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.
The Lakers, who comfortably hold the best record in the Western Conference, are 20-0 when facing an opponent with a losing record.
There have been near-misses, including the Lakers squandering a 36-point lead before hanging on against the Phoenix Suns. They also labored against the Pistons, despite earning praise from head coach Frank Vogel prior to taking the court.
“We have a good team and we have a business-like approach to try and get better each game,” Vogel said before his team had lapses against an undermanned Pistons roster. “We remove the opponent and quality of opponent from our process.
“Credit our players for doing a good job with that so far.”
Vogel has regularly stressed a need for the Lakers to take a consistent and focused approach into every game, regardless of opponent. That was particularly true against the injury-ravished Pistons.
“We’ve got to make sure we respect these guys,” Vogel cautioned. “They’ve got more than enough caliber players in uniform to beat us. Hopefully we can learn from some of [Saturday’s] upsets and not let the same thing happen to us.”
The Lakers stormed to a 17-2 record through November and jockeyed with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best mark in the NBA. They nonetheless faced criticism over what was deemed a soft schedule, and questions regarding how they would fare in December when the quality of competition improved.
They are 9-7 thus far against opponents over .500, but 9-4 against current Western Conference playoff teams.
L.A. went 9-5 during the final month of 2019, with four of the losses coming consecutively. It was still an encouraging showing, as Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Kyle Kuzma were among the players to deal with injury.
Regardless of who has been in the lineup, the Lakers have prioritized defense. “It really hasn’t been hard with this group,” Vogel said of the buy-in. “They’ve been committed and understanding of the importance of building a great defense.
“We have championship aspirations and they know that’s a vital part of any such aspirations. The guys have really bought into trying to be great on that end of the floor, to doing the work, listening to the gameplan and preparations, and all the daily work.
“Our leaders have set the tone with that. Both LeBron and Anthony have been locked in mentally and performed that way as well.”