The Los Angeles Lakers have really been struggling in recent weeks, losing five of their last six games after winning the NBA In-Season Tournament.
Given the strength of the Western Conference, the Lakers cannot afford to slip much further in the standings if they want to make the playoffs and avoid the Play-In Tournament. If anyone knows how challenging it is to dig themselves out of an early-season hole, it’s the Lakers after what they went through last season.
One reason for the Lakers’ recent struggles has been their inability to get off to quick starts. A lot of games have followed a similar script where the Lakers fall behind in the first quarter and then must dig themselves out of a hole, which isn’t always feasible.
L.A.’s starting lineup when healthy this season has been D’Angelo Russell, Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but it seems that change could be on the horizon.
As the Lakers get set to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder to close out their road trip on Saturday night, it looks like Jarred Vanderbilt could replace Russell in the starting group, as first reported by Anthony Irwin and later confirmed by Dan Woike of the L.A. Times:
From what I’ve heard, this is indeed the plan tonight against Oklahoma City. We’ll be at shootaround here shortly in OKC and should learn more. https://t.co/gcjfTBx2xB
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) December 23, 2023
This is an interesting lineup change as it takes out one of the team’s primary ball-handlers in Russell and replaces him with a defensive-stopper in Vanderbilt. While that should make the Lakers better defensively, it puts a lot of pressure on James as the only ball-handler in that unit.
The group also lacks spacing with both Vanderbilt and Reddish on the floor, although both of them do provide tremendous length on the perimeter, which will be necessary against the Thunder.
It will be interesting to see if this lineup change is permanent or if it’s just matchup based against a Thunder team that has a lot of weapons on the wing such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams.
Darvin Ham has previously cautioned against a starting lineup change knowing how big of a deal that is in this league, but he obviously feels the team needs some sort of spark going into their matchup with the Thunder.
D’Angelo Russell takes accountability for poor play
The reason for this lineup change is the struggles of Russell, who is averaging just 9.8 points while shooting 37.5% from the field and 27.5% from 3-point range in the month of December.
Russell recently took accountability for his struggles, but now it looks like he will need to find his way out of this slump while coming off the bench.
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