News Analysis: Lakers’ offense is as big a problem as their defense

Lakers forward LeBron James shows dissatisfaction with a referee's call.
Lakers forward LeBron James disagrees with a referee’s call late in the game against the Clippers on Thursday at Arena.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Frank Vogel knew the stats weren’t as bad as the feelings. The losing can sort of lie to you, make you think things are worse than they really are.

Still, after losing to the Clippers, he said he was surprised to hear that the Lakers’ defense ranked 16th in the NBA — a number that, considering everything, probably should be much worse.

“I know where we’re at,” he said Friday. “It feels like we’re not good, because we’re not winning.”

Despite a coach who built his reputation on defensive acumen, the Lakers had just gotten blitzed by the Clippers, their hallway rivals making everything whether the defense was there or not.

Since returning from the All-Star break, the Lakers have been miserable on both ends of the court, Vogel and his staff left to walk the line they have all season, trying to fix one problem without creating one that will kill their chances of success elsewhere.

It’s become, as much as anything, this team’s identity. The most consistent thing about these Lakers is that they’re always searching — lineup changes, roster tweaks, rotation adjustments in the name of finding a way to win.

It’s not enough for All-Star guard Russell Westbrook to be good, the Lakers need him to be great, and it hasn’t been happening.

March 3, 2022


When Vogel joined the Lakers in 2019, it wasn’t that way at all. The Lakers quickly defined what kind of team they would be. They bullied the NBA with their size. They outworked opponents with relentless hustle. Their effort was rarely matched.

And they defended.

Since winning the NBA title in 2020, there’s been a steady erosion of that identity. The team tried to recapture its defensive magic the following season despite losing role players like guard Danny Green and center JaVale McGee, but injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis sabotaged any hopes of dominating on defense.

This summer the Lakers continued to move away from that style, focusing their attention more on offensive-minded acquisitions in a quest to take pressure off of James’ shoulders.

The results have been a twofold failure. One, the offense has been the more consistent issue despite the investments. The team is 24th in offensive efficiency. Second, because of that, James has had to take on more offensive responsibilities, with league scouts excusing some tendencies to rest on the defensive end because, as one put it, “he can’t be doing everything.”

Following the loss to the Clippers, James said that defensive issues start on the perimeter at the point guard spot and push back to the big men who have been unable to quickly transition from the outside back to the inside once a shot goes up. A healthy Davis would mitigate some of that. But he’s not healthy.

“It’s been challenging for us this year defensively,” James said Thursday. “And we’ve had a lot of breakdowns, and we’ve lost a lot of games because our defense has broken down.”

LeBron James called the Clippers ‘a better team’ after they beat the Lakers on Thursday night. He’s right, but the most important question is: Why?

March 4, 2022

Dwight Howard said the Lakers need to find a new identity because grasping at what worked before is irrelevant to this team.

“Different team. Different season,” Howard said Friday. “So we can’t go backwards. I think that would be bad for us to try and go back and remember what we did two years ago to win, especially with a new team, kind of like a new style.”

Asked again about the defense, Howard pointed to the offensive makeup of the roster.

Following the loss to the Clippers, Vogel acknowledged opening his defensive playbook wider than ever, the Lakers playing a lot of zone early in the season and now playing very small and switching every position as they try to jumpstart the struggling offense.

“We don’t have the defensive speed and defensive talent that we had the last couple years,” Vogel said. “But our guys are competing to learn a system that basically all of them are in Year 1 executing and we’re working through that stuff.”

While the obvious frustration and poor body language might make it seem like the Lakers are on the verge of total collapse, Vogel insisted a momentum swing is imminent. The coaching staff, he said, has remained incredibly granular in its scouting with the Lakers focused on small-picture improvements instead of worrying about transforming into a championship contender overnight.

He said players still are invested in finding corrections.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Frustrated that we’re not getting over the hump, but still doing plenty enough to get ourselves close to the point where we feel like the momentum can shift. … We all want this to have happened yesterday, but we’re continuing to put in the work.”


The problem, in part, is that improvement requires a belief that these problems are even solvable — and that can be difficult when morale is low.

Howard said while he’s trying to stay positive, things are “pretty rough,” with film sessions looking more like horror movies than highlight reels.

“The losing sucks,” Howard said. “...Watching film or anything like that, we know the result because we lost the game. It’s kind of like, ‘Damn, I hate watching this because we should’ve done better.’ And that point, there’s nothing you can do about it.

“I’m sorry. Loss for words.”



When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday

On the air: TV: Ch. 7; Radio: 710, 1330

Update: The Lakers will not be able to retreat to the shadows to work out of their four-game losing streak, instead having their mettle tested once again in prime time on national TV. The possible return of veteran guard Avery Bradley could help their defense. The Warriors have cooled after starting so strong, losing three straight. They’re in danger of falling out of second in the West. The stakes for the Lakers are much higher, the team clinging to one of the final spots in the postseason play-in tournament.