Lakers Struggles With Mental Consistency Continues This Season

While the Laker fanbase is trying to get over another seemingly unnecessary loss to the Indiana Pacers from Tuesday night, the fact remains that 15 games into the season we are still left unknowing which Laker team will show up on any given night. Honestly, I felt the Lakers were set to turn a page in their soap opera of a season thus far after their statement win against the Dallas Mavericks last week.

I guess I was wrong.

I know, I know. The Pacers game was just one loss and doesn’t represent what the Lakers have the potential of accomplishing this season. I know the return of Steve Nash will provide more clear and concise answers to where the Lakers truly stand and what the team’s vision actually is for the season. However, the battle with consistency is arguably the most frustrating issue that is currently plaguing the Lakers and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Consistency is a very difficult trait to have either as an individual player or as a team in professional sports. This is because in sports, and in basketball specifically, the games and a team’s performance can so easily be dictated by runs, streaks and momentum. The trick is to know how to capture that momentum and keep it on your side on a consistent level. For the Lakers thus far this season, consistency over their mental game and approach has been in the forefront.

There are several instances of mental inconsistencies that have been daunting to the Lakers. First and probably most apparent is with their free-throw performance. On Tuesday night, the Lakers missed a whopping 20 free-throws that could have easily won them that two-point game. We all know that Dwight Howard has had major struggles at the charity strike not only with the Lakers (.478), but throughtout his entire career (.585). However, take Dwight’s attempts out of the equation against the Pacers, and the rest of the team converted just 64.5 percent from the line (20-31).

Pau Gasol remarked after the game that:

“It’s a mental thing,” summing up the reason the Lakers went just 23-for-43 from the free throw line as a team. “And it’s a confidence thing. So it’s something that you have to work mentally, not just repetition, which you also should get.”

Overall, the Lakers are 29th in the league for free-throw shooting (66.8 percent). Like Gasol said, their poor rate at the charity strike, especially in Howard’s case, comes down to the mental game. At practice, Howard has reportedly been hovering around the 80 percent mark from the line. Therefore, it all comes down to performing with mental consistency from the line. The opponents are simply giving you free points, the Lakers must find a way to capitalize on that, especially in the clutch and in close games.

The Lakers have shown inconsistency with their offense and defense as well. This battle of inconsistency surrounds their mental approach as well because there have been games where the offense has shown up in a big way, their defense has presented itself or neither decided to join the party. The problem with this that is troubling for us to figure out is that everyone is aware of the offensive and defensive talent that the Lakers have on their payroll.

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Therefore, fans are left scratching their heads when smaller and less skilled opponents outperform the boys in purple and gold. For example, the games against the Houston Rockets (shot 54.1 percent from the field) and the Dallas Mavericks on November 24th (shot 48.8 percent from the field) showcased what the Lakers could easily do every night on offense (even without Nash) and mix in good defense, especially in the Mavs game. 

Then three days after the Rockets game, the Lakers were embarrassed by the Sacramento Kings and shot 44.6 percent from the field, which was actually worse than advertised since their three-pointers (46.2 percent) had a major affect on that stat. Then, after that energized, balanced offensive and defensive attack in Dallas, the Lakers came out on Tuesday and shot a rather pathetic 31.6 percent from the field, and had no consistent defense to make up for their horrible offense.

Another example of inconsistency is with the bench’s contribution. After another sluggish start to the season, the bench seemed to have made a turn to become more stable. In the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas matches, the bench posted 72 points and 44 rebounds. On Tuesday night, the bench scored a measly 5 points and 16 rebounds. Steve Blake, who will add depth to the reserves, won’t be back for another two weeks. Until then, the bench needs to mentally check into the game every night. When this happens, positive affects naturally occur.

The most intangible inconsistency surrounding the Lakers that could potentially resolve practically every issue is their level of effort and energy. Even though some players have been consistent in this area (Bryant, Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill), the Lakers win or fail as a team and therefore must be presented in this argument as a team. The energy and effort has been bursting of the seams one night, then lost and vanished the next night.

All these stats and numbers come down to the energy and effort that the Lakers choose to come out with. The energy and effort is based on the decided approach as a team. At the end of the day, it all comes down to mentality and what mentality they are going to play with. Fortunately for the Lakers, there is still a lot of playing time to align their mentality with the results they want to achieve. The next step is to get that mentality consistent. For everyone’s sake, the sooner, the better.

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