Frank Vogel, Stanley Johnson on Lakers “building habits” for postseason

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

If the Los Angeles Lakers were given an “F” for their effort and overall engagement in the games immediately following the All-Star break, it’d be fair to give them a “B”, hell, or even an “A” for the effort they’ve displayed in the past four games. They’ve gone 2-2 in those contests — all without Anthony Davis and one (a loss) without LeBron James — as the team finally seems like they’ve awakened to get ready for their looming postseason.

It’s been refreshing to see and desperately needed if the team wants to avoid the most embarrassing outcome of their season: losing in the first game of the play-in tournament to their likely opponent in the New Orleans Pelicans.

Of course, the Lakers don’t hang “effort” banners in Arena. The Los Angeles born Stanley Johnson knows this, but still, he knows himself that the Lakers have finally been playing with a championship-type effort lately and that is giving him some confidence (quote transcribed via this Spectrum SportsNet video from Johnson’s post game availability following Wednesday’s loss vs. the 76ers):

“Our goal is championships, and it’s still there. We’re trying to put the work towards things so when we get to the space, in the play-in game, in the playoffs, that we’re ready and playing our best basketball. I’ve been here since December and I’m just starting to figure out… like Wenyen (Gabriel) just got here two weeks ago and he’s been playing a lot of minutes and we’ve been in and out of lineups and stuff like that, hopefully we get AD back soon, LeBron’s been in and out of lineups. It’s been a little tough figuring out… strategically… you know, because all of our stuff is around AD and LeBron. It’s tough in that fashion, but if we play with that type of effort… I think… especially me, I got to be a little better with little, small things defensive, offensively to help our system keep going the way it is and for us… there’s no “win” tonight for us at all… but the effort is something we can, continue playing like that, and use that later on.”

The Lakers are not dumb. They know that their effort and play in the post-All-Star-break games preceding this four-game stretch was unacceptable. In those games, the Lakers went 2-9 with the only two wins coming via LeBron James and his two 50+ point performances.

Stanley Johnson isn’t the only one seeing these improvements that are leading to sustained confidence for the team, as Frank Vogel and Dwight Howard both expressed similar sentiments as his following that game against the 76ers.

So… effort is nice and all. But can the Lakers win enough of their nine remaining games to even stay in the play-in tournament? It’s likely that they will, but will they be able to build enough continuity and firepower in their offense and defense to get out of the play-in tournament? And if they do that, will they be able to put up a fight against the Phoenix Suns in the first round?

Those questions have a steadily declining optimism attached to them if you’re a Lakers fan… but who knows. Maybe our outlook will be different if this effort continues with sustained health from the team’s two stars.

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