Since getting trounced by the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 5, the Lakers rattled off eight wins in their last ten games. When the Lakers went on a four-game winning streak following the game against the Hornets, many credited the increased win totals to the return of Lonzo Ball. Ball, who averaged 11.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.8 steals during a four-game winning streak, suffered another injury during the Lakers’ overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks.
After Ball’s injury, the Lakers dropped two games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers had the media and fans convinced that they would struggle without Ball. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Lakers began a three-game winning streak. With the Lakers streaking again, the team has moved within six games of the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
How are the Lakers doing so well this month, especially without Ball in the lineup? Here are a few reasons why the Lakers’ recent success has surfaced:
Los Angeles Lakers’ Recent Success: What’s Going Right?
Jordan Clarkson has been playing really well during the Lakers’ last ten games. Since January 7th, Clarkson has averaged 16.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, with a 50% shooting percentage from the field and 79.2% free throw percentage. While Clarkson hasn’t actually started any of the last nine games, his impact off the bench has carried the Lakers offense during Ball’s absence.
Clarkson’s positive influence can be seen in the box score of the last three games alone. On January 19th against the Indiana Pacers, Clarkson scored 33 points on 14-19 shooting. The next game against the Knicks, Clarkson provided 29 points and 10 assists on 12-19 shooting. Even against the Celtics, when Clarkson wasn’t the leading scorer, he managed to pour in 22 points on 8-17 shooting.
Until Ball returns from his knee injury, expect Clarkson to remain productive on the offensive end of the court.
If you haven’t noticed, Julius Randle is wildly underrated. Despite earning the sixth-most minutes on the team, Randle averages 13.6 ppg on 55% shooting and 7.2 rebounds. In this nine-game span, Randle is averaging 15.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and most importantly, 80.6 from the free throw line. Randle has used his “bully ball” playing style to his advantage, getting to the rim and finishing at opportune times.
Similar to Clarkson, Randle has been surrounded by trade rumors since the beginning of this month. In a stunning turn of events, Randle has proven his worth. Many Lakers fans are beginning to find it more difficult to find a reality where Clarkson and Randle are apart of the Purple & Gold. Randle especially has been an integral part of the Lakers’ rotation for as long as he’s been a part of the team. Now, Randle plays with his own edge, leading to an increased production that helps out the whole team.
If Randle keeps playing with this kind of production, the Lakers might keep him around for the long term.
Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart
To say that Lakers’ front office absolutely killed the 2017 NBA Draft would be an understatement. With three first-round draft picks to their disposal, the Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. Many people expected Ball to be a force in the league in his first year, but Kuzma and Hart’s on-court production surprised everyone.
In the Lakers’ last ten games, Kuzma and Hart have combined for 20.4 ppg, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 36.8% shooting from three. Kuzma provides a big-play scoring ability that few rookies possess. Against the Boston Celtics, Kuzma showed why he might be the best rookie in the league. With 28 points on 62.5% shooting (71.4% from three), 4 rebounds, and three assists, Kuzma willed the Lakers to victory against the number one team in the Eastern Conference.
Hart plays a role similar to the one Avery Bradley played for the Boston Celtics last season. Coming off-the-bench, Hart offers a high-level of intensity in all facets of the game. With a 108.4 defensive rating and a 105.0 offensive rating, Hart’s impact largely goes unnoticed. However, Hart and Kuzma have given Lakers fans a lot to be happy about in recent weeks.
Fast Break Points and Efficiency
When Lonzo Ball went down with a shoulder injury earlier this season, the Lakers struggled to find success in transition. Their pace wasn’t what it usually was, and the team struggled because of this. Ball’s recent knee injury has sidelined him for the last six games, but the team hasn’t seemed to struggle on the fast break at all.
The saying “defense is your best offense,” fits the Lakers playing style perfectly. When the Lakers excel in the turnover and rebounding departments, they determine the pace of the game. The Lakers are currently second in the league in fastbreak points and third in the league in fastbreak efficiency. Despite being without Ball for the past week, the Lakers have maintained their spot in the top five of both categories. Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson have a lot to do with the Lakers recent success on the fast break.
Since the Lakers are one of the youngest teams in the league, they use their youth to their advantage. When the Lakers set a faster pace than their opponent, they get easier, efficient shots at the rim.
A big knock on the Lakers before their recent winning streak was the lack of effort displayed on the court. As a correspondent of that effort, the Lakers found themselves at the wrong end of the scoreboard in tight games. The current Lakers’ will to win separates them from team’s in recent memory. To offer some perspective, the Lakers were 7-15 in games decided by 10 points or less before 2018.
Since 2018 began, the Lakers have taken advantage of the fourth quarter. Before the Lakers’ January 7th victory over the Hawks, the Lakers were averaging 24.8 fourth-quarter points, ranking them 28th in the league. In their last three games alone, the Lakers are averaging 28.7 fourth-quarter points, slotting them at fifth in the league.
This late-game effort proves the maturity of this young Lakers team from the beginning of the season to now.
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