Lakers Reach the NBA Finals for the First Time in 10 Years, Will Face the Heat

Behind a 38-point triple-double from LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the Denver Nuggets in 5 games (4-1). James also had 16 rebounds and 10 assists, scoring 16 of his 38 points in the 4th quarter. He was automatic down the stretch converting mid-range jumpers, fadeaways, and a dagger 3-pointer. Fellow superstar, Anthony Davis, accumulated 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, as the Lakers won the Western Conference Championship and advanced to the NBA Finals.

Additionally, there were important contributions from the likes of Dwight Howard, Alex Caruso, and Danny Green to wrap up the series. Howard, who started in place of JaVale McGee, had a vital defensive presence in the contest and was essential in slowing down Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. He had 9 points (3-4 FG) and 9 rebounds, in 35 minutes. Despite picking up a flagrant foul for an elbow on Paul Millsap, Howard kept out of foul trouble throughout. Something that he has struggled with in previous contests.

Alex Caruso led the Lakers with 8 points in the first quarter on a perfect 4-4 shooting. Even though he only scored 3 more points in the game, his defensive effort late-on contained the Nuggets and assisted in handing the purple and gold the victory.

Lakers' President Jeanie Buss Has Special Words of Appreciation for Magic  Johnson After Team Reaches Finals - EssentiallySports
(Image/Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Danny Green had been struggling throughout the series, after regaining form against the Houston Rockets in the second round. Even though he was shooting just 28.6% from the field in games 1-4, Green stepped up with a huge 3 with a couple of minutes to go in Game 5. He also had a pair of important blocks, including one in the fourth on Jokic. On the night Green had 11 points (2-4 3P) and converted 3-4 from the free-throw line. The most free-throws he’s hit in a game since a win on December 16, 2019, against the Atlanta Hawks.

Even with a third-quarter slip that let the Nuggets back into the game, the Lakers cruised to a 117-107 win to stamp their ticket to the NBA Finals for the first time in 10 years. The very next night, the Miami Heat brushed aside the Boston Celtics in 6 games, to set up a Lakers-Heat finals matchup.

The LeBron James and Anthony Davis matchup versus Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will be a fascinating one. But the title could be won through whose role players step up, with the likes of Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Kyle Kuzma all waiting in the wings to contribute to a Lakers triumph. Whilst, on the other hand, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder, Goran Dragic, and Duncan Robinson will be looking to fire on all cylinders to take the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy back to Miami.

Featured Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


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How the Los Angeles Lakers Beat the Houston Rockets

From a stylistic and tactical standpoint, this was the matchup everyone wanted to watch. The Lakers and Clippers would have been the storylines, the star power, the in-town rivalries, and the online media receipts so relished by fans, all of which are great. But the Lakers-Rockets series was a battle of ideas as much as it was one of teams and individuals.

In a league that increasingly emphasizes wings and three point shooting, the Rockets play only wings and guards while regularly breaking their own league records for the number of their shots that come from behind the arc. By contrast, the Lakers regularly play two bigs and attack the paint with size and physicality, as their hooping forefathers did. Because of such dramatic stylistic differences, this series was billed a significant test for the analytically-driven small-ball revolution of the past decade.

Weirdly, it both passed and failed that test. The Rockets lost the series in convincing fashion, overwhelmed physically and outworked on defense. The extreme difficulty of overcoming a size disadvantage that severe was on full display. P.J. Tucker‘s impressive strength did not save him from Anthony Davis. By the end of the series, the physicality deficit (and the thinning of their rotation by the suspension of Danuel House, Jr.) had left Houston’s players frustrated and visibly exhausted.

Yet for all that, it was a concession to the logic of small-ball from Frank Vogel that unlocked the Lakers’ dominance.

Image from Getty Images

After the series, Frank Vogel pointed out the luxury of having two full practice days to prepare for the Conference Finals, as opposed to only one full day for the Rockets. That lack of preparation was apparent in Game 1, when the Lakers showed up with an astonishingly normal game-plan. As they have all year, the lineups featuring Rajon Rondo and two bigs suffered from an absence of spacing offensively and an inability to run people off the three point line defensively. Houston exploited those flaws, particularly during the decisive fourth-quarter stretch when they took a double-digit lead.

Houston’s ability to pack the paint when the Lakers played two non-shooters discouraged both LeBron James and Rondo from either attacking off the dribble or attempting lob passes. The presence of so many nearby defenders provided Houston with the ability to quickly double any entry pass to the low post, and the Rockets created several turnovers by anticipating the entry pass and bringing the second defender early to steal it.

If they aren’t able to either bully in the post or be on the receiving end of a lob, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard have little to contribute offensively. Defensively, when the Lakers played two bigs, the Rockets were able to frequently get them both out of the paint. With one occupied guarding Tucker in the corner, James Harden would simply call whoever the second big was guarding to set a screen for him. Once again, Houston manipulated the floor to negate the advantages of size, which as a small team they have a lot of experience doing.

Vogel’s key adjustments unfolded throughout Game 2. McGee again started, but played only 8 minutes, none of them in the second half. Howard did not see the floor, and would not again until 5 minutes of garbage time at the end of Game 5. The primary recipient of their minutes was Markieff Morris, who saw his minutes jump from 9 in Game 1 to the mid-20s for the remainder of the series, and performed magnificently.

Image from Getty Images

While smaller than McGee and Howard, Morris remains large at 6’8″ and is both strong and relatively quick on his feet. He is also a competent three-point shooter (career 34.5%). By playing with Rondo initiating the offense and spacing at the other 4 positions, the Lakers created the necessary room for their veteran point guard to do what he does best, which is attack and distribute. The lobs began to flow.

Vogel also innovated in Game 2 by playing more zone defenses, particularly 3-2 and Box-and-One. Doing so permitted him to deter Harden from attacking the rim too frequently by keeping multiple defenders near it. At the same time, it prevented Rondo from being hunted on screens. Zones are famous for being vulnerable to shooters, but with a non-shooter in Russell Westbrook off the ball, the Rockets weren’t able to stretch the zone enough to create space at the rim.

The combination of the Lakers going smaller with Morris and playing significant minutes of zone defense was a body blow from which the Rockets would not recover. In the first two games, when the Lakers played the highest proportion of man-to-man defense, they allowed Houston to take 39 and 53 three-point shots. As they shifted to zone, they were able to run shooters off the line so effectively that the Rockets would only attempt 30 in each of the next two games.

The Harden drive-and-kick, the engine of Houston’s offense, was sharply limited by his reluctance to attack a clogged lane and Westbrook’s inability to knock down open threes. When players other than Harden needed to make plays late in the clock, the Rockets lack of creating depth and the absence of House showed.

By Game 5, the Rockets were down 3-1, tired, and out of solutions. That game never felt competitive. It is tantalizing to imagine this series with Chris Paul in place of Westbrook, as Paul’s reliable three point shot and late-clock creation ability are precisely the things the Rockets needed most from his position.

As it is, the series has hardly settled the big vs small debate in the NBA. Partisans of the Houston approach will point out that what did them in was taking too few threes, not too many. After all, how many teams have a 6’10” big to play against them who, like Anthony Davis, are capable of defending 5 positions and scoring at 3 levels?

Ultimately it is Davis who is the key ingredient in the Lakers’ versatility. They can get most of the spacing of small-ball without entirely sacrificing rim protection, and they are able to do that because of Davis’ generational talents. Davis, vast production from James, and excellent defensive effort from the entire team ultimately overwhelmed the Rockets. The Lakers now know their next opponent will be the Denver Nuggets. The next chess match is about to begin.

Cover image credit: The Athletic


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Markieff Morris Flourishes as the Lakers Blow Past the Rockets

Many players impressed in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 4-1 series win over the Houston Rockets in the second round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, namely the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But another player to hit red-hot form was Markieff Morris, who stepped into the starting 5, as the Lakers opted to play small ball.

JaVale McGee started games 1-3, as he has been all season. However, with the series sitting at a fragile scoreline of 2-1, Frank Vogel placed Morris into the center position. In an attempt to snatch control of the series and progress beyond.

That is exactly what happened. Vogel’s decision to throw Morris into the fire paid off, with the Lakers taking games 4 and 5, 110-100 and 119-96, respectively. Consequently, the purple and gold advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 10 years, since the 2010 title-winning season with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Co.

Morris’ minutes didn’t exactly increase. As his 23 and 24 minutes in games 4 and 5, were pretty much the same as in games 2 and 3, where he played 23 minutes in each. It was more him playing meaningful minutes alongside the premiere cast.

The 31-year-old flourished on both ends of the court and proved why he could be a vital piece to the Lakers’ pursuit of championship number 17. It becomes clearer by the day how much of a bargain the acquisition of Morris was. Being brought in as a free-agent, following his buyout from the Detroit Pistons in February 2020.

Cover image credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images.

NEXT: Morris’ Offensive Prowess

Kyle Kuzma’s Increasing Maturity Is Starting to Show in His Performances

After being selected with the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kyle Kuzma was initially a relatively unknown prospect to fans of the Los Angeles Lakers. However, a stellar rookie campaign posting an average of 16.1 points per game quickly built the Flint native a reputation of being a flat-out scorer. Which was further backed by his 45% shooting from the field and 36.6% conversion rate from beyond the arc. This earned him a selection into the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie Team.

With the addition of LeBron James on the Lakers in the summer of 2018, Kuzma’s game took a step further in his sophomore season. Where his scoring jumped to 18.7 points per game. Even though his 3-point shooting dropped to a below average 30.3%, his overall field goal percentage increased slightly to 45.6%. He even won MVP honors at the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend in the Rising Stars game, where he scored a game-high 35 points.

Going into his third season in the professional ranks, and with the addition of a second superstar in Anthony Davis, the expectation was for Kuzma’s game to step up even further. Specifically, for him to be the third scorer on a championship contender.

Long story short, it’s not been a straight road for the 25-year-old in the 2019-20 season. His scoring and shooting averages have dropped to 12.8 and 43.6%, respectively, due to streaky performances. His rebounding and assists numbers are down too. Additionally, his minutes per game have fallen to a career-low 25, as a result of him losing his starting place to Davis.

Lakers top Thunder 125-110 without LeBron, Anthony  Davis
(Image/AP Photo/Sue Ogrock)

He did show spurts of his former self however. Scoring a season-high 36 points in a road victory against Oklahoma City Thunder. In-fact, when he has started instead of Davis, he has posted averages of 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, on 49.7% shooting, 36% from 3. When scoring 20+ points this season, the Lakers had an impressive 8-2 regular season record.

Although, it does need to be noticed that his game has progressed in other facets. He has realized that he isn’t a top scoring option, unlike in his first two seasons in the NBA. As the purple and gold have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and a host of veteran options, including Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Avery Bradley.

Kuzma’s defensive rating in the regular season sat at a career-high 105.2. Some of that will be due to him having a better team surrounding him, but his intensity and focus on the defensive end has increased dramatically.

In the NBA bubble in Orlando, Kuzma finished the 2019-20 regular season in red-hot form. Shooting 44.5% from 3-point land on an average of 15.4 points per game. This led to him being part of his first ever NBA postseason, where even though his numbers have dropped again, he has flourished in his role. Doing the small things that matter.

When out on the perimeter on the offensive end, he’s been cutting to the basket often. In his first two seasons, he would have been doing this to purely receive the ball and looking to score. However, now the 25-year-old recognizes that such cuts can space the floor and create opportunities for the many shooters on the team. As well as the superstar duo of James and Davis. Alternatively, his cuts allow him to plant himself in-front of his man in anticipation of any misses, to grab the offensive board. In the 9 postseason games, to date, he is averaging 1 offensive rebound in each contest. That extra effort has been on full show in Disney World.

Not to mention, his sheer will and desire to fight for loose balls. As displayed in Game 3 of the second-round against the Houston Rockets. Where he ran the entire length of the court to save a ball trickling out of bounds, by throwing himself to the floor and into the advertising board.

Kuzma has taken huge strides forward on the defensive end. In the postseason so far, his defensive rating is 101.5. This places him in 3rd place on the Lakers’ roster for players that have played over 15 minutes. He falls behind Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris, and sits ahead of Anthony Davis.

His agility and quick feet has allowed him to stay in front of some of the NBA’s best players. At the very least, his strong 6-foot-8 frame makes it awkward for opponents, who have to frequently alter their shots in his presence. Which has been ever-present in the series’ against the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockers. Where he has matched up against the likes of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.

Even though everyone expected Kuzma to step-up in scoring this season, it appears that he’s stepped up in maturity, adopting a team-player mentality. He has established the ability to read the game better on both ends of the court, looking ahead at how the game will unfold. Not to mention his new-found recognition to create opportunities for others off-the-ball, through intelligent movement. Although, his scoring promise is still well and truly there. Along with the capability to light-up for 25-30+ points on any given night.

A more consistent scoring punch off the bench for the Lakers would be welcomed, as Kuzma has been very up-and-down all season long in that regard. But credit where credit is due. Kuzma’s all-round effort has improved significantly. As he has become a very important piece for a championship-contending Lakers team that has returned to the very top of the NBA once again.

Cover image credit: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP


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Lakers Adjust, Claim Game 2

Early in the fourth quarter of Game 1, as a tenacious Houston defense gave the Laker offense fits, LeBron James turned to his coach and succinctly summarized the issue.

After the Rockets went on to win that game in convincing fashion, it was obvious that big changes would have to be made on both ends for the Lakers to take the series. Frank Vogel responded and, while there remains plenty of room for improvement, his response and excellent play from his stars proved enough to take Game 2.

Aside from short stretches at the beginning of each half, Vogel chose not to play with his larger lineups. JaVale McGee got only 8 minutes, and Dwight Howard did not see the floor. Their normal minutes were spread generally across the remainder of the Laker bench unit.

It is not coincidental that the choice to go smaller facilitated Rajon Rondo playing much better than he had in Game 1. With two-big lineups, having a guard like Rondo who doesn’t have to be feared as a shooter negates the spacing created by having a lob threat.

Notice that in the above photo all 5 Rockets can camp in the paint without concern. Russell Westbrook can recover to guard Kyle Kuzma (not pictured, in the near corner) if James should try to kick it out. Rondo need not be respected as a shooter, so there are two Rockets guarding James on the drive and three in position near the rim. This possession ended in a James turnover.

By playing Rondo with hyper-small lineups, Vogel both stretches the Houston defense and gives Rondo more shooting options to hit out of the screen and roll or in transition, which is where he is at his best. It would still be preferable to play Rondo less and play big more, but this particular adjustment puts Rondo in a position to better succeed, if Vogel is determined to play him.

The Lakers were much better in Game 2 about attacking the Rocket defense from the high post or off the dribble, rather than trying to take advantage of size mismatches with deep post-ups. That defense is designed to chase the ball around the perimeter and double quickly in the post, which suits their smaller personnel. If Houston can’t pack the paint, they struggle defending the drive.

Defensively, the Lakers’ smallness hurt them, especially in the third quarter when Houston buried them under a barrage of three pointers. When the Lakers have only one viable rim protector on the floor, it allows the Rockets to hide that big by putting their “center” in the weak side corner. Doing so creates more space for James Harden to get to the rim, while the big sprinting to contest his shot leaves a corner shooter wide open for him to find.

Vogel compensated for that weakness somewhat by weaving a 3-2 zone into the defensive game plan, to keep two people near the basket at all times. That can be only a partial and occasional solution, however, because the corner remains a weakness in that scheme as well.

When the Lakers play with two bigs, however, Harden is far less likely to make the decision to go to the basket in isolation, and far more likely to take a difficult jumper or step-back three. The Rocket offense is at its worst when he takes these shots at a high volume, rather than driving to the rim and creating open shots for their terrifying array of shooters.

Going into Game 3, it would be nice to see Rondo’s minutes reduced closer to 20, with his minutes coming exclusively in small lineups, ideally without Harden on the floor. When Harden is playing, they would do better to mirror his minutes with bigger lineups to deter him from attacking the basket.

Overall, Vogel did a good job smoothing the roughest edges from the Lakers’ Game 1 plan, but there is more to be done. The Rockets are a dangerous team and Mike D’Antoni is a crafty coach who finally has free rein to do as he pleases with the players he wants. Vogel will need to stay a step ahead of him throughout the remainder of the series.

Cover image credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press.


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Who Is the Weak Link in the Lakers Starting Line Up?

The Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers in 5 games but do they have a weak link in the starting 5 that could be exposed in the later rounds?

After an initial blip in game one of the opening series against the Trail Blazers, the Lakers were able to rattle off 4 wins back to back to back to back to stamp their ticket to the next round of the playoffs.

After game 1, skepticism seemed to creep into Laker Nation. Are we as good as we thought? Is this team just LeBron James and Anthony Davis and a bunch of bench guys? Do we have what it takes to win the Larry O’Brien trophy this year?

The 4 games following Game 1 went a long way in settling the nerves for fans of the purple and gold and while the Lakers stumbled initially, they seem to have found their footing within the playoffs and now look a really good bet to make it to the NBA Finals.

One of the main criticisms that many fans of the purple and gold voiced (apart from the Lakers’ shooting woes in the bubble) was Coach Frank Vogel’s utter refusal to alter the starting line-up.

While he was proven right as the team convincingly won the series, the thought of whether there is a weak link in the starting line-up persists.

Can or should the Lakers make a change to the starting line-up that could potentially improve the squad even more? Or should they stick with the same players who got them to the dance in the 1st place?

Here are the top 3 players not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis who can potentially be considered a weak spot in the Lakers starting lineup.

Cover image credit: Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images.

NEXT: 3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s Shooting Improvement in the Portland Series

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been with the Los Angeles Lakers since 2017 and the majority of his time in the purple and gold has been heavily criticized. Mainly due to questionable performances individually, coupled with poor team performance.

However, in the 2019-20 season, despite a poor start, Caldwell-Pope has really turned it around to deliver some of his best performances in a Laker uniform yet. Through 69 regular season games, the 27-year-old averaged 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. On 46.7% shooting from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc.

As the NBA season resumed in Orlando, Caldwell-Pope struggled to re-discover form, converting just five 3-pointers in 6 games heading into the postseason. Although, it is worth noting that the team as a whole struggled during this period, going 3-5 for the remainder of the regular season.

Disaster then struck in Game 1 of the 1st round of the playoffs, against the Portland Trail Blazers. As the Lakers fell 0-1 in disappointing fashion, all eyes were set on Caldwell-Pope with his 1 point on 0-9 shooting, in 29 minutes.

The purple and gold did regroup to win 4 straight and eliminate the Trail Blazers in 5 games (4-1). Along with the team regrouping, KCP was a focal point to the Lakers’ success, finding his scoring touch and staying active on defense.

Photos: Lakers vs Trail Blazers Game 1 (8/18/2020) | Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Joe Murphy/NBA.com)

Over the course of the series, the 6-foot-5 guard’s averages bumped up to 11.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1 steal, in 26 minutes per game. Whilst he shot at a below average 39.5%, he did convert at a 39.7% rate from downtown. Which gets him off the hook, as his primary role is to space the floor and knock down corner looks.

On the catch-and-shoot, which accumulate a large bulk of his scoring, Caldwell-Pope shot 52% and when wide open he converted at a 40.9% rate. He was the 5th-highest on the team in plus-minus (7.8), sitting behind Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Danny Green, and Alex Caruso.

He had impressive outings in Game 2 and 5, where he scored 16 points and 14 points, respectively. Knocking down four 3-pointers in both. In the latter, he tallied 3 steals, as the Lakers rounded out the series.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope may be averaging the second lowest averages of his career in points per game and rebounds, but he is arguably playing the best basketball of his career to date. His shooting numbers are at a career-high in both field goal and 3-point percentage, as he is actively contributing on a championship contender.

If he can keep up his shooting from range in round 2, and beyond, he will be a huge piece for the Lakers in chasing championship number 17.

Cover image credit: Associated Press.


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The Lakers Bubble Performance Review – Part 2

(Image/Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBA.com)

As the second week of games within Walt Disney World come to an end, let’s take a look at how the Los Angeles Lakers have done. Exploring the positives and negatives of each result.

In the final week of the regular season, the Lakers have continued their very busy schedule as they hurtle towards the postseason. Playing against the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets and the Sacramento Kings in less than seven days.

Following each game, we have taken note of the main talking points and the main pro and con of each 48-minute encounter. We’ll take a look at each individually, and decide whether the Lakers are on the right course or if some slight adjustment is needed as the league heads into its 74th postseason.

NEXT: Houston Rockets

The Greatest Lakers of All-Time: A Summary – Part 1

(Image/Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Over the last couple of months, Lakers UK has been running polls through its social media channels to decide the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All-Time. Following 2000+ votes through both Twitter and Instagram, the list is complete.

For each player, we compiled an article chronicling their greatest moments in the Purple and Gold. In this 2 part series, we have compiled at an exert from each.

In the Lakers storied 72 season history the franchise has seen the grace of many truly great players. For the organisations first 12 years, theses Legends would ply their trade at the Minneapolis Auditorium. The team would then move out West, setting up camp in the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. The arena would see it’s very own set of legends in its 31 seasons of service to the franchise. The Staples Center would then become the Lakers next dwelling, seeing its own collection of player deserving of their retired number status.

In this 2 part Count down of these greats, we will of course begin with number 16 and work our way down the list to who followers of Lakers UK decided is The Greatest Laker of All-Time.

NEXT: Michael Cooper

Frank Vogel, Coach of the Year?

(Image/Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

In spite of widespread skepticism, Frank Vogel has smoothly guided the Los Angeles Lakers through his first regular season as coach.

Frank Vogel never had a honeymoon. Most coaches, upon being hired, are greeted with a sort of hopeful enthusiasm. Fans are fans for a reason, and have a well-documented tendency to hope for the best. Instead, Vogel was hired under a cloud of controversy after the exhaustively documented breakdown in talks between the Lakers and erstwhile LeBron James coach, Tyronn Lue.

Many in the media and online dismissed Vogel as a third choice coach and placeholder for assistants Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins. It was widely assumed that he would be the fall guy, should the team run into any real trouble.

In spite of the noise, the team rallied around Vogel from the first. LeBron James – the most important voice in the locker room – already respected Vogel from his days in Miami. When he played in consecutive Eastern Conference Finals series’ against the Vogel-coached Indiana Pacers. The rest of the locker room got the message.

Vogel’s open, direct, and collaborative style has proven successful while managing a team with two experienced superstars and a staff with two former head coaches. Who are also former star players. He has navigated potentially difficult dynamics by sustaining team success. He has been even and measured in his public comments, always realistic but never too high or too low.

(Image/Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Offensively, his sets have gotten some criticism for not being particularly imaginative. His reputation coming into this season was predominantly as a defensive coach, and no one currently on the coaching staff fits the “offensive coordinator” role. Especially in the way that Tex Winter did for another defensive-minded Laker head coach, Phil Jackson.

During the season, he took significant heat for under-utilizing the LeBron James/Anthony Davis screen-and-roll in favor of post-ups or isolation plays. In part, that was a reaction to the way the Lakers have been defended this season. When Davis is being guarded by a position 4 player or the opposing team plays a smaller 5, teams are switching the screen-and-roll. That leads naturally to mismatches and isolation play.

In the playoffs, when teams are heavily scouted and offensive sets are known to all. Offensive play in recent years has frequently degenerated into the cat-and-mouse game of manipulating switches to create advantageous match-ups. Purposefully creating perimeter isolation or post up situations for James and Davis throughout the season is, in all probability, designed to get the team accustomed to the style of offense they are likely to be playing in the post-season.

(Image/Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Defensively, Vogel has been superb. The Lakers are third in the NBA in defensive rating (up from 13th last year), and the team-wide buy-in has been noticeable. The late-season addition of a strong, versatile defender in Markieff Morris only stands to improve an already stingy Laker defense.

Overall, Vogel has built an impressive case for himself in the Coach of the Year balloting. He has stiff competition in Toronto’s Nick Nurse, who has kept the Raptors in the top tier in the East in spite of losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green from last year’s championship squad. Mike Budenholzer of the Bucks would be a top contender, but he was last year’s victor and the voters dislike consecutive wins – only once has any coach won back-to-back CotY awards.

Other coaches from teams who are not top-tier, such as Indiana’s Nate McMillan and Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins, have made waves by maximizing limited rosters. But are disadvantaged by the fact that both Vogel and Nurse are coaching contending teams.

Whether he ultimately receives the award or not, Frank Vogel has been a reasonable, steady hand for a team that needed a down-to-earth coach who could nonetheless earn the respect of the star-studded team and coaching staff. The real test of his ability will come in the playoffs. But thus far he has provided everything that Laker fans could have wanted from him.


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