The circumstances surrounding the NBA restart are unlike any the sports world has ever seen. The path for the Los Angeles Lakers to win their 17th championship will be an even more difficult one as head coach Frank Vogel and his team are faced with an uphill climb.
Beyond the environment challenges with the Walt Disney World bubble, the Lakers are without starter Avery Bradley as he opted out of returning and key reserve Rajon Rondo until some point in the playoffs.
Additionally, the Lakers have to incorporate Dion Waiters and JR Smith and figure out their best lineups and rotations while getting back into top basketball conditioning. With all of those factors, the play in Orlando, Florida, has not always been the most aesthetically pleasing.
Vogel believes teams were expecting such and are determined to win however is necessary. “I think this whole finish to our season is going to be filled with that mindset by all teams,” he recently said.
“This is going to be an imperfect way to go into the playoffs and play playoff basketball, but the whole league is dealing with the same set of rules. There is going to be an element of we’ve got to gut something out. If that means winning ugly, we’ve got to win ugly.”
One thing that has made the Lakers great throughout this season is their versatility. They have had the ability to play in any type of game with any type of lineup. Locking down defensively has been part of this team’s ability and something Vogel is known for.
“I’m known as a defensive coach and a lot of defensive coaches take pride in winning ugly. I personally don’t. I like to dominate,” Vogel added.
“I like to have our defense be tenacious and make their offense look ugly, but I like our offense to be a fine-tuned machine. So I don’t really like to phrase ‘winning ugly,’ but there will be an element of that league-wide with all the circumstances going into this finish.”
That is a major difference for Vogel and many others. He obviously wants his defense to dominate, but he also doesn’t want his offense to fall far behind. Losing Bradley hurt the Lakers’ defensive presence, but Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma have each shined in that area.
Defense ahead of offense
En route to splitting their first two seeding games, the Lakers had stretches where their offense struggled mightily. Generally speaking, the team has performed better on the defensive side of things.
“I always anticipate defense is going to be ahead of the offense in training camp, preseason or early in the season,” Vogel said. “Our defense is performing really well.”
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