As defenses close off paint, Lakers look for shooting woes to end – Orange County Register | #schoolshooting

There’s a curious trend among Lakers opponents in the last two weeks: On defense, they’ve had trouble staying out of the paint.

In five of the last seven games, opposing defenses have been penalized for 3-second violations, perhaps one of the least-called offenses in the NBA rule book relative to how often it occurs. But it illustrates how teams are starting to see the Lakers: as threats in the paint, but not from outside. Loading up the interior is an effective strategy as the Lakers have lost weapons. Some teams are simply setting up camp in the middle.

The Lakers haven’t been able to make a lot of opponents pay recently, dropping three of their last four games. Fast-break opportunities have dried up: After eight consecutive games with double-digit points in transition, the Lakers have only scored 12 combined in the last two. Against Miami on Saturday, an admittedly burly defense in the interior, the Lakers had just 38 points in the paint, well below their season average of 51.9.

“They take that away and they make you beat them over the top,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “If you’re knocking down shots, you’re gonna have a great night against this team.

“But if you’re not,” he added, “it’s gonna be a long night.”

The nights have been plenty long recently, and the Lakers (22-9) find themselves soul-searching on the offensive end.

While losing All-NBA big man Anthony Davis (through at least the All-Star break) and starting point guard Dennis Schröder (until at least Thursday) has a lot to do with it, the Lakers aren’t making excuses for how their offense has fallen off, now ranking just No. 16 in the league. With teams more willing to stack the paint and double-team LeBron James as the Heat did on Saturday, it feels like a code has been cracked until the Lakers rediscover their 3-point shooting.

The pressure is mounting, players acknowledged, to take some of the offensive pressure off of James, whose streak of 20-plus points in 13 straight games ended when he had 19 points against Miami. The 36-year-old can’t carry everything forever.

Some of that weariness seemed to be apparent in the third quarter, when James subbed out near the 6-minute mark. During a 3-minute break, the Lakers allowed a 9-0 run, and when Vogel signaled to the bench, James got up slowly, as if he had barely gotten a rest at all.

“We do ask Bron for a lot, he gives us a lot each and every game,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “It’s up to us as far as like role players and next man up mentality we’ve got to be ready and locked in.”

The Lakers have especially had a hard time explaining their 3-point shooting, which has failed them recently at inopportune times. Over the last 15 games, they’re the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA (30.1 percent, just below the Washington Wizards who they face on Monday night). Everyone is stumbling on that front, including James who was just 1 for 8 against Miami after starting the season shooting the best percentage of his career.

Even though gym and practice time has been relatively scarce, the Lakers say it hasn’t been a problem to practice their shooting. Vogel said while the offense always wants to generate more open looks, it’s not as though no one has been open. The Lakers were 1 for 13 on 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter against Miami, and eight of them were either open or required a Heat defender to scramble over to make up ground for a contest.

The Lakers have maintained that they believe the shooting will improve – if only because of the law of averages.

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