The Lakers snapped a 5 game losing streak with their win over the Pacers on Friday, a sorely needed win after not only that recent skid but a longer stretch of only 5 wins in 26 tries that lasted over a month. The win did not come without its “losses” though. D’Angelo Russell suffered a “mild” MCL sprain and a strained calf after tough fall in the game’s 2nd minute. He’ll be out 1-2 weeks and did not travel to Dallas. Nick Young also suffered a hyper extended knee, but did return to the game and, presumably will not suffer any lingering affects.

Losing Russell is a blow to the team, no doubt. He’d been struggling with his individual game lately and I was hoping to see him respond with a strong game against Indy. Still, though, as I (and others) have harped on throughout the season, Russell is the lone guard who offers an ability to score at all three levels of the floor, can organize the offense, is a deft passer, and a good ball mover overall. That diversity of ability means the team rarely struggles to get at least a somewhat respectable look in the half court when he’s in the game. Considering the dearth of individual shot creators in the starting lineup, this matters.

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The Lakers stopped their five-game skid as they trampled the Indiana Pacers, 108-96. It’s too bad that it came with a price.

D’Angelo Russell was lost for the game after he sprained his MCL on his right knee. He also has a calf strain to add to those pains. D’Angelo will have an MRI tomorrow. We also received a scare from Nick Young as he hyperextended his knee but he ended up returning to the game.

In the meantime, the game wasn’t exactly pretty as the game was mired with turnovers. The Lakers had 23 while the Pacers had 20. What the Lakers had the edge on, though, was hustle as they outboarded the seemingly-disinterested Pacer team, 51-37.

We saw a litany of missed transition hoops and dunks throughout the game. But the Lakers went on two separate surges in the second half that broke them away from Indy. They went on a 12-0 run in the third to give themselves a double-digit lead then L.A. countered with eight straight points after a Pacers bucket to start the fourth. The Lakers outscored the Pacers, 35-22, in the third as Indy stumbled their way in that period with seven turnovers.

Lou Williams led the Lakers in scoring with 27 big points; the Pacers simply couldn’t stop him. Julius Randle broke out of his offensive slump with 16 points. Brandon Ingram looked smooth as he sank three shots from behind the arc on his way to 15. Nick Young also had 15 despite being slowed by the knee. Jordan Clarkson was chaotic in the game with 7 turnovers but he did get 12 points and 5 steals. And Tarik Black contributed greatly with 8 points and 13 rebounds. We’ll forgive Timofey Mozgov for missing like 20 dunks but, at least, he grabbed a ton of boards (11), set some mean picks, and did his job inside the paint.

In the first half, the Lakers couldn’t stop Al Jefferson, who scored all 20 of his points in the first half. But the Pacers never really got it going in the second half. Paul George did end up with 21 points but Ingram essentially played him to a draw as George got some of his buckets late. Myles Turner scored 15 points but he had a hard time stopping Tarik Black. Jeff Teague had six turnovers and Thaddeus Young was mostly invisible. If anything, Sue Storm would be envious on how invisible the Pacers were in the second half of that game.

The Lakers are one win short of matching their season total from last season and we’re only in January so the team has that going. L.A. will play the Mavericks next on a Sunday matinee in Dallas. Hopefully, they can continue to build momentum there. If you still have postseason hopes, they’re four games behind the 8th seed Nuggets. Hey, if the Sixers can suddenly go on a surge, why not the Lakers?

Let’s all wish D’Angelo a speedy recovery. Let’s hope his injuries aren’t too serious.

There’s no getting around it: the Lakers are bad right now. You can add the context of injuries, the league catching up with them, general youth, or any other number of valid reasons which contribute to the slippage and I’ll nod along in agreement. But, ultimately, the team has not been playing well enough to win and, at the end of the day, that’s why you play the game (*extreme Herm Edwards voice*).

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Where are we? How did we get here? And where are going?

The fundamental questions of theology hang over this Lakers season, particularly as the losses mount. The team is in the midst of perhaps their most interesting rebuild, at least that most of us have experienced. Through a perfect storm of disasters, lottery luck, and drafting prowess, the team has gathered a deep and diverse collection of young players, who we now watch find their way through fascinating and usually frustrating games.

This season feels like the critical moment in the rebuild, when we mostly transition from asset gathering to asset evaluation and development. In other words, we likely either have the primary pieces of the next contending era already in place, or we are halfway (gulp) through a vicious cycle back to the beginning.

This year will tell us much about which direction we are heading, which makes the answers to the posed questions all the more important. Those answers will also, I believe, reveal something about whether the front office is capable of leading the team into the future, which is a question that Jeannie apparently isn’t going to let die.

Let’s start at the beginning.

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The Lakers have lost 4 games in a row — a topic covered extensively in the latest podcast — so I won’t get too much into it now. Just know the team could really use a win, for no other reason than they have a couple of more games at home before going on the road again for 9 of 11 games before the all-star break. Some of those games are winnable, but with the way the team is playing right now and the fact that they’re 5-20 in their last 25 games, the idea that the Lakers should actually be favored to win any of them is becoming more and more of a stretch.

Which brings us to tonight’s game vs. the Nuggets. Denver is currently 16-23 and the 9th seed in the conference. I’ll save my rant about the Lakers playing 6 more games than the Nuggets at this point in the season, and focus instead on the idea that if the Lakers want to make any sort of push towards even contending for a playoff spot (note: this does not mean make the playoffs), games like this are important. The Nuggets are better than the Lakers, but they aren’t so much better that a win in Los Angeles should be out of the question.

Getting it is another story, but the Lakers do have the tools to win.

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In the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete and I discuss the Lakers’ 0-4 week, their loss to the Pistons, and differentiating between what parts of the young players’ games you can dismiss because they’re young and what parts of their games are real concerns irrespective of their youth.

That last point, I think, is a worthy discussion beyond the time Pete and I spent on it. As I wrote in the game preview, I think it’s fair to be both disappointed in some of the team’s recent play while still being understanding that this team is playing the long game and looking for long term improvement and upward trajectory. This is what rebuilding looks like.

In any event, click through to listen to our talk. As always, thanks for the support.

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After a stretch where the Lakers looked as though they were turning a corner with improved play, they have lost three games in a row. In the last two of those three, the Lakers haven’t even held a lead. Considering how rare buzzer to buzzer losses are, the fact the Lakers have had two such games in a row isn’t good. At all.

This dip in team play is directly related to the dip in play from D’Angelo Russell and, to a lesser but still meaningful extent, Julius Randle. Russell has struggled as a shooter and his forays into the lane have not earned him many baskets nor free throws. As for Randle, he had an excellent first half against the Spurs, but in the 2nd half did not have near the same impact. Then, against the Blazers and Clippers he was a combined 4-16 from the field and only scored 10 total points. And while the rebounding was still there, the team needs more from Randle than to be a glass cleaner, they need his scoring and the subsequent impact that has on his ability to create shots for others.

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After their second 1-game trip to Texas this season (and their 2nd blowout loss, this time to the Spurs) the Lakers are back in Los Angeles to play a “road” game against the Clippers. The game is a matinee with a 12:30pm start time so the Kings can use Staples tonight to play against Winnipeg. According to Arash Markazi, this just the 3rd time a little over a decade that all three of the Lakers, Kings, and Clippers have all played a game in the Arena on the same day. So, the more you know.

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