The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most dominant teams in the league. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both playing at the top of their games, the role players showing up when needed, and the team has been as good as people expected given their superstar duo. James, Davis, and the Lakers are NBA title contenders, and they’ve ascended to that level despite one obstacle that would be debilitating for most teams.
The one obstacle LeBron James and the Lakers have faced
Head coach Frank Vogel was speaking to the media following the team’s 111-104 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He stated that while there are benefits to giving certain rosters more practice, the veteran-led Lakers have a lot of veterans and a system that allows them to succeed on the court without expending too much energy in non-game environments. As such, the practice schedule for Anthony Davis and crew has been light.
“They’ve picked things up, and they’ve learned and improved and grown away from the basketball court regularly throughout this year,” Vogel said (per Spectrum SportsNet).
For most teams, forgoing practice would be a one-way ticket to last place in the standings. These Lakers are not like most teams.
Why no practice for the Lakers?
This isn’t Vogel’s first time coaching a successful team. His stint in Orlando did not go as planned, but he’s the one who got the Indiana Pacers to contention in the Eastern Conference while LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat dominated the East. He is widely respected as a smart basketball coach. Despite some concern about the addition of Jason Kidd to the coaching staff, he is a vast improvement over Luke Walton.
With several aging players on the roster who have bought into Vogel’s system, the lack of practice isn’t born of arrogance. It stems from the preservation of legs for a team whose goals stretch deep into the postseason.
“When you have a veteran group with the intelligence that this group has, it really is a great luxury, because when you have an experienced team like us, you don’t want to be leaving their legs on the practice court, so you’ve got to make sure that you can improve away from the court, and these guys have done that thus far,” Vogel said.
The coach clearly doesn’t see any problem with limited practice time, and so far, the results back up that strategy.
The results speak for themselves
The results have spoken for themselves. LeBron James has had a season that compares to some of the best in his career. His scoring might be slightly down, taking a rare backseat to Anthony Davis with 25 points per game, but James is averaging a career-high with 10.8 assists to go along with eight rebounds and a steal.
Davis is doing everything the Lakers wanted as well, leading the team with 27 points per game and grabbing nine rebounds to go with it. He’s passing the ball for three assists a game, and his defense might be at a level that Davis hasn’t ever played at before. The two superstars are averaging 35 minutes a game, as well, meaning that they don’t have to go out there and hurt themselves every night.
Outside of the superstars, it is a balanced effort. From Kyle Kuzma to Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Dwight Howard, everybody is giving the team what they need. Depth is a legitimate concern for the Lakers, but the players who are there are ones who can step up on any given night.
Can the Lakers keep this up?
Time will tell whether the Lakers can go about the rest of the season with fewer practices. They have been able to beat most teams, but the opponents with depth, such as the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers, have given the Lakers fits. James and Davis might not need the practices, but the role players might need to step it up somewhere down the line, and practice environments could help them bring their games to the next level.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis might be good enough to clear any hurdles, but the Lakers need to think about the playoffs when the bottom-feeding teams are gone and only the elite ones remain. If Vogel wants to win, he will need to find a proper balance between preservation and motivation to put in work and get everything done.