There were moments when trouble looked like it could cause the Lakers problems. Turnovers would pile up in bunches, shot selection would be suspect, defensive assignments would get missed and the Miami Heat would go on a little run.
But on a night when the Lakers’ weren’t their best — and Friday they weren’t close — the team won its seventh game in a row largely because of its trust in what it is trying to do. And for a new coach such as Frank Vogel, that’s a real accomplishment.
“I think the buy-in in any coaching situation is important, and when you win early, that comes faster,” Vogel said before the Lakers dropped the Heat 95-80. “Hopefully we’re off to a good start in that regard.”
They’re off to a good start in almost every regard — surging to the best record in the NBA while playing with the defensive mind-set and execution that Vogel was famous for as the head coach in Indiana.
It’s a real victory for him and his staff — and a real relief to any of the problems that could’ve come with a slow start.
No one is talking about how Vogel wasn’t the Lakers’ first choice to be the head coach. No one has wondered if Jason Kidd sliding down a chair would make the team better or their stars happier.
If the Lakers’ 7-1 start was the inverse, that kind of talk would almost be guaranteed. We saw it in Miami, where James and the Heat struggles had people talking about Erik Spoelstra. We know how things ended for David Blatt in Cleveland.
And while coaches who get hired almost always end up fired, Vogel’s start with the Lakers couldn’t be going better — unless you ask him.
“There are a lot of things we can do to play better — execution on both sides on the ball has to continue to improve,” he said pregame. “We’re not getting back well enough in transition, and we’re turning the ball over a little too much. Our shot selection can continue to improve. We’re not boxing out and gang rebounding as well as I’d like. The list is long, but we’re off to a good start. There’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
But the Lakers have found the way to win while still needing to get better, to absolutely lock teams down — a byproduct of the Lakers truly caring about how they compete on the defensive side of the basketball. After the game, Vogel said the team’s internal statistics showed that the team contested 88percent of Miami’s shots Friday, an astoundingly high number.
“I had high expectations about what we could be,” Vogel said.
But even Vogel is at least a little surprised about what they are already.
Trouble will come. It does for every team. Vogel and his staff will have to continue to nurture relationships with James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the team. But because it hasn’t happened yet, the Lakers are more equipped for it when it does come.
“You’ve got to figure it out one way or another. But yeah, [you’d] obviously rather have success than not,” Spoelstra said. “But you have to get a group committed to go through the mud even when it’s not necessarily going your way. The process, you can’t skip steps in this league — no matter how much talent you have.
“And they’re not skipping steps.”