Los Angeles Lakers

Bell Game of the Week: Lakers' early season struggles continue as they search for the right mix

It hasn't been pretty for the Los Angeles Lakers to start the 2021-22 season.

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The starting lineup changed once again prior to a game with the Detroit Pistons, as head coach Frank Vogel searches for the right mix.

DeAndre Jordan was inserted back into the starting group alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Avery Bradley.

It was the eleventh start of the season for the 33-year-old, who is averaging a career-low 13 minutes per game. It's the third time this season he has re-entered the starting group, with Davis once again sliding from the five to the four. It begs the question, what will the Lakers starting lineup will look like ahead of Tuesday's game against the Knicks? (TSN, 7:30 p.m.)

Entering Sunday's game with the 20th ranked defence by giving up 108.5 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers were cut apart in the first half, conceding 68 points to the Pistons.

In fact, they allowed Detroit to score 99 points through the first three quarters, which is astounding when you consider this Pistons squad had failed to reach 100 points in eight of their first 15 games this season.

Trailing by as many as 17 points during the third quarter, the Lakers would eek out a win, but it was hardly impressive.

Admittedly, the Lakers have had players in and out of the lineup with various ailments, but at least to this point, the results with Jordan on the floor have not been positive.

The DeAndre Jordan experiment is off to a rough start ( numbers via NBA.com/Stats )

Total Minutes OFF Rating DEF Rating NET Rating
D.Jordan, A.Davis, L.James, R.Westbrook, K.Bazemore 47 98.1 112.3 -14.2
D.Jordan, A.Davis, R.Westbrook, A.Bradley, K.Bazemore 40 84.5 103.6 -19.1

Jordan features in the two most used five-man lineups, with the offence, in particular, producing brutal results in the small sample produced thus far.

While the defensive side of the ball remains a major concern, the Lakers have seen a bump on the offensive end when Davis is tagged as the five-man. According to Cleaning the Glass , the Lakers' offensive efficiency improves by 8.6 points per 100 possessions with Davis at centre.

Naturally, the Lakers closed Sunday's game against Detroit with Davis as the big man, with the perennial All-Star coming up with multiple clutch defensive plays, including consecutive blocks on Cade Cunningham in the final minute that effectively iced the game.

The Lakers are 9-9 on the season and while it's probably not the time to smash the panic button, the reason for concern is legitimate. Through 199 minutes of play, the Lakers are posting a -5.3 net rating with LeBron and AD on the floor together. Last season that figure was +11.2 in 601 minutes. During the title season in 2020, it was +7.9 in 1455 minutes.

Everyone expected this new group would take some time to come together, particularly with the inclusion of a player with the skillset of Russell Westbrook but it's hard to deny the Lakers look like an ill-fitting collection of talent, and yes, they look old.

The Lakers rank dead last for opponent points in the paint at 50.9 per game and 26th for opponent fast-break points at 13.8 per contest. Concerning, to say the least.

While the insertion of Jordan back into the lineup was a head-scratcher, it's certainly plausible the Lakers are aware they need to lighten the load on their star big man as injuries have begun to take hold with some of the key older players on the roster including James. Prior to Sunday in Detroit, Davis had spent 72 percent of his minutes at the five which would be a career-high number if it extended through the season.

The Lakers survived against the Pistons, with unconvincing wins a theme through the early part of the season. Westbrook admitted postgame they needed to collect the road win.

"It was a must-win for us. We've got to find ways to win games, especially on the road," Westbrook told Mike Trudell from Spectrum SportsNet . "Tonight was a hell of a win for all of us, for all Laker Nation. We needed this one tonight and we got it."

It would seem likely an early-season game against the lottery-bound Pistons would not have been expected to be considered a must-win but this is where the Lakers are at.

It's probably fair to give this squad until the New Year to form any solid declarations about their ability to contend come postseason, but at least for now, those who doubted the veteran squad coming into the season have no reason to change their opinion.

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