The Lakers have been looking for a turnaround to their thus far disappointing season for weeks. While it’s too early to make any proclamations about their recent performances, they did have a major turnaround in their victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, perhaps due to a wake up call from Frank Vogel at halftime.
Tuesday’s game appeared to be another stinker through the first half. The Lakers, without LeBron James who entered health and safety protocol and is expected to be out at least 10 days, dug themselves into another double-digit deficit and two players – DeAndre Jordan and Talen Horton-Tucker – both appeared to get benched due to their mistakes or low intensity play.
After halftime, however, the Lakers dominated, turning a nine-point deficit at the break (thanks to a Malik Monk heave at the buzzer) into a 25-point victory and holding the high-paced Kings offense to just 33 second-half points.
After the game, it became clear that there was some internal soul-searching within the squad at halftime and that head coach Frank Vogel had laid into his team’s play, perhaps inspiring the massive second half turnaround.
Malik Monk, whose 22 points were a huge boost in James’ absence, credited the halftime discussion for sparking the defensive intensity in the second half. Speaking to the media after the game, Monk detailed that Vogel’s message was mainly to “pick the energy up” and that the Lakers had been playing like they “didn’t care.”
Monk was not the only Laker to reference what happened in the locker room during the break. While Anthony Davis did not specifically mention what Vogel said to the team, he also credited the halftime talks for sparking the comeback.
“Halftime, we had a conversation about the team we want to be,” the star big man said. “Gotta buckle down on the defensive end.” Davis continued to express his happiness with giving up just 15 and 18 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, while also challenging the team to show that same focus and intensity from the beginning of games.
While Russell Westbrook downplayed its effects on him personally (“I already knew I was playing shitty.“) the star point guard did credit Vogel for getting other players heads in the right space to perform in the second half.
Dwight Howard was probably the most vocal player about Vogel’s disappointment in the players’ effort, giving some crucial details into what the head coach told the team which I would recommend everyone read in its entirety below:
Dwight Howard, on Frank Vogel's halftime speech, and what this team did better tonight, and needs to improve moving forward: pic.twitter.com/BWyr2SsnSg
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 1, 2021
Howard was the biggest beneficiary of Vogel’s more scorched earth tactic on Tuesday, replacing Jordan after just four first quarter minutes and playing the majority of the second half that the Lakers dominated, despite previously being told that he was unlikely to play much, if at all, in the game.
Vogel himself is rarely one to take credit or to blame his players but Tuesday night was a different attitude for the one-time champion. Perhaps feeling the seat under himself growing hotter with the Lakers’ poor start, Vogel did confirm some of the going-ons in the Lakers’ locker room at halftime, most notably saying that it is sometimes a coach’s job to “light a fire under his team” and Tuesday constituted one of those opportunities.
Frank Vogel doesn't blast players publicly, but when you combine these comments with..
a) the sub he made in the 2nd half (Dwight starting over DJ)
b) the coverages he praised Dwight for (i.e. they weren't getting from DJ in the 1st half)
.. by his standards, it's an indictment pic.twitter.com/fAENzhq0Qa
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 1, 2021
Vogel specifically highlighted the transition defense (which both Westbrook and Davis touted as one of the team’s main adjustments) as well as the pick-and-roll coverages that may have been a slight reference to Jordan being benched in this game. Vogel also credited himself for feeling that “Dwight was going to give us a lift in this game” and seeing the results of that decision. Howard was a +27 in his 36 minutes.
Vogel has received a lot of the criticism for how the Lakers have performed this season. Some of it has been fair and some has been more irrational. But the claims that he had fully lost the locker room feel much more baseless after the team’s response on Tuesday to being lashed out by their coach, even with the caveat that it was against a poor team.
Of course, Frank Vogel will have to navigate those waters cautiously. A veteran team could easily tune out a coach being too aggressive; how Jordan responds to what seemed like a heated conversation after being benched could be one of the more telling signs of that team approval even if the veteran center is not a major piece of the puzzle like the three stars and some of their role player counterparts.
Again, it was one November win against a Kings team that has yet to practice under their new coach. Still, the Lakers’ first blowout win of the season coming after a moment where Frank Vogel takes charge of his team and gets them to operate the way he envisions them at their best is a more than positive sign for an organization that has been grasping for them since October. Time will tell if this will be the true turning point of the season but it was a turning point for Tuesday’s game and a potential boost towards the rest of the season.