Winners of three straight on the road, at 5-2 the Los Angeles Lakers are tied for the top stop in the NBA’s Western Conference.
But according to head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the Lakers, the team is still figuring out roles and winning combinations that work well together in games.
And that’s a scary thought for the rest of the league -- the defending NBA champs are still a long way yet from hitting their stride.
“We’re learning each other,” Lakers center Marc Gasol said. “We’re learning how to win as a team together, trying to help one other be comfortable out there on both ends of the floor with communicating. It’s all a process, obviously. We always say that, but it truly is a process of becoming a team
“We have new guys. We’re kind of going through mistakes, how you approach them and how you fix them on the fly. Not only how you’re being helped, but how you take it as a guy that probably made a mistake. And when it’s a hustle thing and you don’t have enough energy, somebody else comes to you or you bring the energy up for someone else -- that’s all positive. It’s all process, and we’re getting ready for a bigger challenge when it comes to the playoffs.”
While the Lakers have shown they can impose their will at the end of games with two of the best closers in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they have not played perfect. They have been careless with the ball at times on offense, turning it over on average 15.4 times a contest, No. 16 in the NBA.
And L.A. is shooting just 32 percent from beyond the arc, No. 24 in the league. However, like good teams do the Lakers have found ways to win, with bench players like Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews and Talen Horton-Tucker infusing the team with energy to carry them through games.
Vogel is working to mesh new players like Dennis Schröder, Gasol, Harrell and Matthews together with foundational players already on the roster like James, Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and that takes time. And he’s also working to get guy in peak physical conditioning after a condensed offseason
“We still have a long ways to go, in terms of getting our legs under us and getting our conditioning where we want it to be,” Vogel said. “But I do want to credit the medical team and the coaches that have been doing the workouts for just making the best of a difficult season during the offseason. I think they have handled the ramp up really well and have got these guys playing at a pretty high level.”
Vogel’s settled in on a 10-man rotation, which allows him to somewhat limit the minutes played by James and Davis. James is playing about 32 minutes a contest. He played 34.6 minutes a contest last season.
“For me, it’s always about having my mind and my body fresh,” James said. “If my mind is sharp, then I can go out and do whatever I need to do out on the floor. And if it’s not, it hurts not only myself but our entire team. That’s the most important thing for me.”
Gasol played in Memphis for the first time since being traded to the Toronto Raptors two years ago, winning an NBA title in Toronto.
Gasol spent 11 seasons in the city and appreciated the video tribute the Grizzlies played for him before the game. Gasol said he made time to check on his home in Memphis but was unable to see friends there due to the stringent COVID-19 restrictions by the NBA.
“It meant a lot,” Gasol said. “Obviously, we’re missing a huge part of this, which is the fans and the people from Memphis that would have been there. But obviously, I’m very thankful for that the franchise has done for me, not just now with the recognition, but throughout all of the years I was here.”