After going 17-1 after the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers have now found themselves in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Most people assume that this isn't anything to worry about since the Lakers have a tendency to turn the switch off in the regular season. While I agree for the most part, the numbers during the losing streak have been startling. On defense, the Lakers have been a little worse than usual, posting a Defensive Rating of 103.6 during the losing streak (their season average is 101.0 points allowed per 100 possessions). However, this is still better than the league average of 104.4.
The real problem the Lakers have had during their losing streak has been on the offensive end. The Lakers have been really poor on offense, only scoring 96.2 points per 100 possessions during the streak. Not only is this well below their average of 108.5, but if the Lakers' Offensive Rating during the losing streak was a team's season average, they would be worst in the league.
One of the things that I have heard is the Lakers are going away from the post during this losing streak, but that simply is not the case. In fact, the according to Synergy Sport Technology, the Lakers are going to the post even more during the streak. For the season, the Lakers get the ball into the post an average of 16.9 times a game; during the losing streak the Lakers are posting up 25.2 times a game.
The one trend that hurts the Lakers that I did notice when looking at how the Lakers' possessions break down is that they have been running a lot more pick-and-rolls. They have gone from running ball screens with the ballhandler looking to score 14.6 times a game during their losing streak, up from 7.3 times per game during the season. This is so detrimental to the Lakers' offense because, in terms of points per possession, the Lakers are the worst team in the league when their ball handlers come off of screens looking to score, scoring just 0.74 points per possession (PPP) on 36.9 percent shooting (also worst in the NBA).
The increase in pick-and-roll possessions used by the ballhandler means that you have to take away possessions from the other categories (all of which the Lakers are really good at). Why do the Lakers struggle so much at using screens? With Kobe Bryant coming off ball screens most of the time (over 50 percent of those plays are run for Bryant), it all comes down to him. Bryant uses ball screens to try to get room to score. However, when the pick comes, the Lakers are actually bringing more defenders to Bryant:
Here, Bryant comes off of the screen looking to score. Bryant tries to attack the rim, but the screen actually brought more attention to him as the defense collapses on his drive. Eventually, Serge Ibaka, who switched onto Bryant after his man set the screen, blocks the shot.
With the Lakers running more pick-and-rolls, the question is why are they doing this now after having limited success running them all season? Are they giving it one last shot before the playoffs start, to see if they can have success with it? Are they trying not to play their hands? It could be matchups, as mentioned by Darius Soriano on Twitter.
Either way, this is probably good news for Lakers fans, because it means there isn't a tragic flaw that could hurt them in the playoffs and their struggles are something that can be easily corrected (by running fewer pick-and-rolls). However, if the Lakers start running more pick-and-rolls in the playoffs, it will be interesting to look at whether they have success or not.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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