On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers suffered arguably their most humiliating defeat of the season, as they gave up 10 unanswered points in overtime and lost to the Houston Rockets, the worst team in the Western Conference.
It seems like every couple of weeks the Lakers lose another game that could be called their “worst defeat of the season,” hasn’t it?
The many causes for their poor play are widespread: Russell Westbrook’s inconsistent play, the multiple injuries LeBron James and Anthony Davis have dealt with, poor roster construction and perhaps a lack of confidence or urgency, just to name a few.
But there is another culprit that has become more and more glaring in recent weeks, and that is head coach Frank Vogel’s insistence on playing small, sometimes ultra-small lineups.
Such lineups are perhaps the biggest reason why the Lakers are such a poor defensive team and why they have such problems limiting their opponents to one shot.
LeBron at the 5 worked at first, but it isn’t working anymore
The heart of Vogel’s small lineups has been James playing the center position, something he should be doing only sparingly.
When L.A. first went to this strategy in December, it brought them some success. Once James returned from an ab injury and got his sea legs back, the Lakers won six of eight games, and there was a glimmer of hope that maybe they were starting to figure things out.
James began playing very well for the first time all season, Russell Westbrook was showing signs of fitting in and the team was starting to win games easily, albeit against weak opponents.
But once Davis went down with a sprained MCL in mid-December, the Lakers have been unable to gain, let alone maintain any momentum.
The small lineups they have been rolling out have forced them to collapse into the paint and go into chase mode defensively since they lack the size and height to defend prime offensive players straight-up.
As a result, L.A. has been leaving 3-point shooters open all too often, and they have been unable to rotate effectively to the open man in the paint, as the team has often found itself with a guard or wing player picking up such opponents inside.
Coach Vogel has defended his small lineups
It seems strange that a defensive-minded coach like Frank Vogel would defend being so heavily reliant on going small, but that is where he and his team find themselves these days.
His reasoning seems to be that such lineups help their offensive spacing, but he has also given other reasons and rationalizations for sticking to his guns.
After losing to the Rockets, the Laker coach simply said that his men needed to defend better while implying that he has no real plans to abandon his small lineups.
Fans are blaming Vogel and his small lineups
Lakers fans have soured on Vogel for a while now, and perhaps the biggest reason is his small lineups.
Many have called for Vogel to be fired, but the team’s front office reportedly has its reasons for choosing to not give him a pink slip just yet.
For now, fans of the Purple and Gold are letting Vogel have it on social media.
Now is the time to make adjustments
With a spot in the play-in tournament, not to mention the Lakers’ dignity and Vogel’s job, on the line, the team cannot keep sticking with what hasn’t been working.
Sure, playing Dwight Howard more often may make it harder for Westbrook to find a clear path to the time when the game slows down, but at least Howard provides some type of presence defensively and on the boards that the team sorely needs.
He may not be the same player he was two years ago when the Lakers won it all, but he’s still effective when he gets in the game.
How about giving Wenyen Gabriel a try? He’s 6-foot-9, young and has good energy.
He got into Wednesday’s game for a couple of minutes and immediately grabbed two rebounds and drew two fouls after fighting on the offensive boards.
Sure, Gabriel is not a proven player, but in limited playing time over the last three years he has shown potential as a rebounder and 3-point shooter who will occasionally block shots.
Those are the qualities the Lakers desperately need in their frontcourt players.
If they don’t find the right formula soon, they could be watching the play-in tournament on television, and this already-disastrous season will turn into an outright catastrophe.