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Lakers confident their offensive identity can help them stay hot after the all-star break

D'Angelo Russell and LeBron James high five as they walk alongside teammates Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura.
Lakers D’Angelo Russell, left, and LeBron James high five as they walk on the court alongside teammates Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura at Crypto.com Arena. The Lakers’ efficient offense has helped them win despite lineup changes.
(Juan Ocampo / NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Lakers didn’t have LeBron James on Jan. 15 in Utah, the middle of a stretch during which the team played every other day for almost an entire month. They were stuck in a bit of a malaise, wins over the Clippers and the Raptors erased after the Lakers got smoked by the Suns.

Short-handed and on the road, the light seemed to get extra green for D’Angelo Russell, and the nine-year veteran has never been shy. So he called his number. Again. And Again.

Russell took 26 shots that night in a tight loss to the Jazz, but his aggression fully ignited a thought he had in the weeks prior.

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He needed to do more, to be more. He had to get out of the backseat. He had to be himself.

For only the second time since they all arrived in L.A., LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George played in the same All-Star Game.

Feb. 20, 2024

“Just being out, I’d seen us, you know, trying really hard to get LeBron and [Anthony Davis] the ball,” he said a week after that loss in Utah. “You know, you find yourself dribbling off your foot or looking crazy trying to force it. You’ve got to be aggressive around these guys. You know, you compliment these guys by being aggressive — not passing to them. Like, that’s easy to guard. You’re easy to guard when it’s like that.”

The Lakers enter the second half of the season Thursday with questions looming. Can Darvin Ham pull off another late-season comeback? Will Jarred Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent factor into the Lakers’ season? Can the stars stay healthy and make an impact?

Those are all unknowns.

But one thing that’s indisputable — the Lakers are no longer easy to guard.

Since after that loss to the Jazz, the Lakers have been the fifth-most efficient offense in the NBA, scoring 120.2 points per 100 possessions. They lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and have the second-best true shooting percentage behind the Suns and just ahead of the Clippers.

And while the sample is small — 16 games is also not something to be ignored — it’s coincided with Russell’s pledge to quit deferring.

The significance of playing in the NBA All-Star Game for the 20th time is not lost on Lakers star LeBron James, who still considers it an honor.

Feb. 18, 2024

“Me. Me. Me. Me first. Me first,” Russell said Wednesday when asked about what he’s looking for when it comes to setting up his teammates. “Making teams worry about me and then it becomes easy to make those decisions versus the other way around.

“... Starting with aggression is what gets the ball moving like that.”

The ball is certainly moving.

Since Jan. 15, the Lakers are the only team in the NBA with three players averaging more than six assists per game — James, Russell and Austin Reaves.

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Reaves, who is fond of using the phrase “playing the right way,” said it again when asked about the Lakers’ recent momentum. The team has won three straight and six of its last seven games. Since Jan. 15, only Cleveland, Boston and Phoenix have more wins, the Lakers having won 11 times in their last 16 games.

“Playing unselfish. Making the extra pass,” Reaves said. “And that shows in the last 15 games where our offense has been so good. So hopefully we can continue that.”

LeBron James will play in a record 20th NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, and young players know his work ethic and modern medicine give them a shot at longevity.

Feb. 18, 2024

The Lakers have a real opportunity during the next month to push if they want to fight their way out of the play-in tournament mix. Before the final week of March, they play outside of Los Angeles just three times — at Golden State, Phoenix and Sacramento — during their next 15 games. The stretch starts Thursday against the Warriors.

Wednesday, the Lakers were without Ham due to a personal matter. The hope is he’ll be able to coach Thursday. James, who has been receiving treatment on his injured ankle, also missed practice and will meet the Lakers in the Bay.

In the past, maybe having players in and out of the lineup would’ve been an issue. But the Lakers seemingly have forged an identity, which makes it easier for players to step into any voids — like they did in Utah before the All-Star break when Rui Hachimura, Russell and Reaves had big games with James sitting.

“I think it’s contagious,” Russell said Wednesday of his aggression. “One thing, it’s a mentality. Like I said, sitting out helped me shift my mentality. My mentality was definitely do what I can do to help each guy, each scenario, each situation instead of just getting to the root of it — ‘You be right, you get right, you be better.’

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“That’s what I’ve done and it’s obviously helped myself and whoever else has fed off it.”

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