The Los Angeles Lakers have finally hit a turning point in the season. While it doesn’t show in their record, the transformation on the court has been astounding. They’re also at the point in the season where effort is just as significant as wins and losses. Luckily, this is where Stanley Johnson shines.
Johnson has a supporting role among the cast of Lakers players who have finally found their stride. He’s been a reliable tool in head coach Frank Vogel’s arsenal any time the team finds themselves in need of some defensive work and quick three-pointers.
It helps that LeBron James has made it his mission to take the Lakers into the postseason. It helps that Russell Westbrook has finally started prioritizing playmaking and assists rather than outlandish three-pointers. Johnson, however, has had even less time than his teammates to get acclimated to his new surroundings.
“It’s been a long season, but I got here December 25,” Johnson said. “I wish I had like a training camp or something like that to get all this stuff in, and then maybe in December; I’m feeling how I feel right now. But it happens, God works in mysterious ways, and I’m just blessed to be here.”
Vogel has been awarding Johnson’s hard work on the court with a steady increase in minutes, and Johnson has made the most of it. In Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, he played nearly the entire game where he racked up 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
A struggling Lakers team was bailed out by Johnson a few times when they had no answers for the 76ers’ overwhelming offense. The Lakers guard provided three momentum-changing three-pointers, which almost helped the team make a comeback.
“I think it’s just being here longer,” Johnson said. “It seems like you’re a veteran writer; the more you do it, the easier it is, the better it is, right? But it’s one of those things where from the day I got here, just learning where we want to be at. I was watching because I was on South Bay [Lakers], but I think the small-ball lineup with me in there at the five and then guarding point guards, I think it was different for all of us. I think we’ve done a great job of honing in on film work and working in small groups to figure out what we do good and what you do good to get the best out of all of us.”
Despite loss to 76ers, Vogel likes the progress Lakers have made
Johnson was just one Laker among many to have a big game Thursday night. Dwight Howard hit a season-high 24 points, and Westbrook easily matched him. The team made a statement against Philadelphia, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, without their two best players in Anthony Davis and James.
Vogel was impressed with how the Lakers kept fighting until the last second in the game.
“I think this game we’re disappointed that we lost, but without Bron, without AD. I think the group that played tonight showed everyone that we still have a whole lot of fight left in us,” Vogel said.