The Lakers lost to the Raptors on Friday night, their 10th loss in 12 games, which is a bit concerning if all you are doing is watching the standings or worried about the team’s record. I do watch those things and would like that to be different, but if that’s all you are watching you missed some things which, in the bigger picture, are more important.

The Raptors game was a good progress game, a game where the young players all found their stride on the same night, a game that will, hopefully, be more of the norm in the future than it has been to this point in the year. Consider the following:

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The Lakers come off a much needed few days off to play the Raptors tonight in Los Angeles. After a rough stretch of 7 games in 11 days with 6 of those 7 on the road, a few days off to recharge their batteries and come into this game fresh is what the team needed. And I do not just mean physically, either. The Lakers only have 2 wins in 11 games this season. Mentally, all that losing starts to take its toll.

So, not playing since Monday should help the Lakers. Playing the Raptors in that first game back, however, will not. The Raptors are not playing as well as they would like — they are currently 7-6 and not in the top 8 seeds in the suddenly improved East — but they are still a much better team than the Lakers. Of course, the Lakers are 28th in offensive efficiency and 27th in defensive efficiency, so most teams are “much better” than them. But that’s another story for another day.

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“Will he or won’t he?” Kobe retirement pieces will be written all season or until he definitively comes out and says for certain either way. Consider this your latest installment. If you don’t want to read it, either skip to the bottom or go read about D’Angelo Russell.

I have long been of the mind that Kobe will retire at the end of the season. My logic is pretty simple and can best be summed up by something I wrote this past August:

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In the lead up to the draft, when I wrote about whether D’Angelo Russell was worth the #2 pick, I ultimately concluded that I thought he was. Nothing through the Lakers first 11 games has changed my mind or made me second guess that. Not Russell’s sub 40% shooting from the field, not his sub-3 assists per game, not Byron Scott playing him so few 4th quarter minutes, not…anything. I still have full belief in Russell as a prospect.

In saying that, the same concerns I had about Russell heading into the draft still exist. He can get lost off the ball defensively and is susceptible to getting beat off the dribble too often. He is not an elite athlete and there are times where his motor does not rev very high. There are times I want him to play faster and with more urgency. These are all things that have shown up in his game through the first part of his rookie season. This, really, is totally expected.

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Heading into this season there were certain potentially problematic realities about the construction of the Lakers’ roster.

First was the team having a mix of young and veteran players which all would need playing time to get the most out of them. Second was there being a strong skill-set overlap between multiple players who all like the ball in their hands as shot creators. And, third, the Lakers have a glut of power forwards on their roster.

Four (potentially) viable players at any single position on the roster is too many, and that is how many PF’s the Lakers currently have in Julius Randle, Brandon Bass, Larry Nance, Jr., and Ryan Kelly. Head coach Byron Scott has tried to manage this issue in different ways to start the year, mostly using a two-pronged approach.

The first part of this approach has been to simply leave a player out of the rotation. Larry Nance was that player to start the year. Nance is a rookie and was dealing with a sore knee when the season started so he was an obvious candidate. Nance’s emergence as a rotation player has shifted Ryan Kelly to the odd-man-out in recent games (not to mention Kelly was not playing particularly well on either end of the floor). This change has been for the best, but as someone who likes Kelly’s game, seeing him permanently buried isn’t a positive.

The second part of Byron’s plan has been to play Brandon Bass at Center rather than PF. Dating back to the preseason, Bass has seen the majority of his minutes next to another PF, to mostly mixed (this is generous) results.

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The Lakers have had quite the stretch of games in the past week plus. Sunday’s win over the Pistons was their 6th game in 10 days with tonight’s game against the Suns their 7th in 11 days. The visit to Phoenix makes 6 of those games on the road. That’s a lot of miles to travel in a short amount of time. And while the feeling of getting a much needed W might propel them in the short term, I would not be surprised at some tired legs tonight.

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The Lakers had lost 4 games in a row and were reeling. Their opponent was on the 2nd night of a back to back and had lost to the Clippers on Saturday night. One team was going to leave LA Sunday night (the Lakers to Phoenix, the Pistons back to Detroit after an 11 day roadie) happy. That team is the Lakers and I think we all feel a bit of relief and happiness because of that. I know I do.

It was not a perfect night and there were things I wish played out differently (more on that later), but on a night when the Lakers got a W and in a season where that looks like it might not happen as many times as any of us with rooting interests would like, I won’t dwell on that stuff too much. The Lakers work hard and I want to see that work rewarded. Even if it comes with things I don’t necessarily agree with.

On this night, though, there was more to like than not.

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In recent interviews Byron Scott has taken a more optimistic approach for where his team is. For example, he had this to say about the team’s defense (per the LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan):

“I know a lot of people aren’t happy with our record and where we are,” Scott acknowledged. “But I’m happy with the progress that we’re making, especially at that [defensive] end of the floor. That was the main objective coming into this season, to form an identity on that defensive end and let everything else kind of take care of itself.”

Scott’s softer public stance is needed when the team is doing so poorly. We also should not dismiss entirely what he’s saying — the Lakers have been a bit better defensively recently — so it is worth him saying this publicly, not just to give his guys some public praise, but to speak to what is going on. Before the Lakers went on their 5 game road trip, their defensive efficiency was 113.0. Heading into tonight’s game, that number has fallen to 106.4. Lopping off nearly 7 points per 100 possessions defensively is improvement.

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