Lakers are losing and their offense ranks last in the bubble. Is the problem mental?

Broderick Turner
·3 min read
Lakers coach Frank Vogel and forward Anthony Davis speak with a referee.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel, right, and forward Anthony Davis talk to a referee during the Lakers' loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. (Kim Klement / Getty Images)

A month in the NBA bubble has presented the Lakers with some mental hurdles, causing them to get what center JaVale McGee described as “a little cabin fever.”

But that is a small price to pay, McGee said, because the goal is to win the Lakers' 17th NBA championship even while going through some unique circumstances.

“It definitely adds up over time. You get a little cabin fever,” McGee said on a videoconference call Sunday. “I feel like just being in the same place doing the same things every day with no variation ... But it’s necessary for the goal in hand, which is to win an NBA championship. We all knew what we were getting ourselves into.

“It’s actually more things to do than we actually anticipated, so it’s not horrible. Of course, we’d rather be playing our games in front of our fans and our crowd and in our own homes, but it just is what it is right now.”

The most important thing for the Lakers is to get out of their funk and to regain the mojo they had before the season was halted. They had won 11 of 13 games before play was shut down in March because of the coronavirus outbreak.

They have lost three consecutive games, their longest such streak since dropping four straight from Dec. 17 to 25.

In six games in the bubble, the Lakers are last in scoring (100.8), field-goal percentage (41.1%), three-point shooting (25.4%), assists (19.3), and next-to-last in free-throw shooting (73%) and plus-minus (-7.5).

Though they have clinched the best record in the Western Conference for the top seed, things have gone awry.

“I don’t think mentally anyone figured out we had the one seed and then was like, ‘OK, I’m going to lighten up a little bit,’” McGee said. “I just feel like we’ve had a lot of dinks … I mean, not injuries, but people just getting hurt a little bit, so the lineups have been different and different guys been playing with different guys. So, it’s just slightly different. I think that once everybody’s 100% and hopefully we’ll have that for the first game of the playoffs, we should be good.”

The Lakers will not be whole for Monday night’s game against Denver. Starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is out because of an ankle injury.

He had been their ironman the last two seasons, having played in all 69 games this season and all 82 last season.

“He’s fine,” coach Frank Vogel said via videoconference Sunday. “Everything came back clean.”

Because his team has spent so much time together in the bubble and away from their families, Vogel said he knows that can weigh on players. But he hasn’t issued a mandate that they spend time apart for their mental well-being.

“I have thought about it, though,” Vogel said.

The NBA’s virtual fan experience has allowed the Lakers to stay connected with family in a small way. The league teamed with Microsoft Teams so fans can be seen behind a team’s bench in a courtside seat on a 17-inch LED screen.

McGee, who had family members sitting in the virtual stands during the game against the Clippers, called it “some 'Black Mirror'-type stuff,” referencing the popular British science fiction series.

When the Lakers played Indiana on Saturday, Vogel had his daughter Arianna as a virtual fan. Vogel thought it would be cool because he coached the Pacers for five-plus seasons and “because obviously my daughters were raised in Indiana and it was an opportunity for a lot of their friends back in Indy to see them.”