It is pretty easy to be down on the Lakers right now. They possess a 1-5 record. They are in the bottom 10 in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have lost two very winnable games (opening night vs. the T’Wolves, Sunday against the Knicks) while facing a relatively soft schedule (for example, one of their losses was to the Kings who have only that single win in eight games).

I think some of the major frustrations aren’t necessarily with the losses (though winning more would be nice), but the process in which the losses are occurring. If the Lakers are going to lose anyway, many would like to see D’Angelo Russell in those late game situations where learning can occur. There are questions about the rotations being put together, the schemes the team is using on both sides of the ball, and whether it all combines to put players in the best positions to be successful.

And while it is important to always know that there are things we do not have information on (how practices are going, what’s being discussed in film sessions, specific directions doled out to players), what we see in the games does cause frustrations to mount.

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The Lakers lost again on Sunday, this time to the Knicks, their 5th defeat in six games. The game was close throughout and the Lakers, down the stretch, fell into the trap of looking for specific types of plays — namely Kobe wing isolations – which bogged down their ball movement and, ultimately, did not produce good shots.

It wasn’t even that Kobe got a lot of shots down the stretch, but rather that process of trying to even get him these shots led to the failures. If the Lakers had simply relied on different play types and, in the process, initiated their offense in a different manner they might have gotten the needed baskets (or trips to the foul line) to stop the bleeding.

Instead, they scored exactly one basket between the 7:18 mark and the :05 mark of the 4th quarter. Those two points — on a Roy Hibbert offensive rebound and putback — were only bolstered by four free throws to in the last 7-plus minutes. In case you were wondering, that’s very bad.

I would like to get back to the point above about seeking out different options offensively, however. Because, for the season, the Lakers have been making similar errors in judgement and it has been hampering their offensive output.

What do I mean? I am glad you asked!

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The Lakers came to New York winless, but look to leave the state with their first two wins of the year. After beating the Nets in Brooklyn on Friday night, they get the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. The start time leaves something to be desired — we’ll see how many players have that dragging look that comes from a Saturday night out on the town.

Friday’s game against the Nets offered the first look at what a real road game looks like in what could be Kobe’s last season. At Yahoo!, Adrian Wojnarowski captured the moment and atmosphere very well:

Over and over, they chanted Bryant’s name at the Barclays Center. He let the love wash over him, waving to everyone on his way out, disappearing into the tunnel with his hands raised to the rafters. The Lakers won’t win a lot of road games this year, and that kind of response won’t always feel appropriate. It did on Friday, though. Truth be told, it felt perfect.

“The crowds, the chanting, people wanting to see me play – I’m extremely, extremely appreciative of that,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “I understand what that means. Listen, my personality isn’t the rocking chair kind of thing, but the chanting of my name means enough to me.”

Bryant is sure to get another taste of that this afternoon. There are few, if any, opposing arenas which Kobe is more beloved than Madison Square Garden. The Knicks crowd has loved Kobe over the years and he has loved them right back, giving them some great moments and memories. He has always said he loves to play there and it has shown in his efforts. Today, with the understanding it could be the last time he plays there, I expect there to be much of the same appreciation he was shown in Brooklyn two days ago.

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There has been a lot of handwringing over the Lakers’ offense. I know, I have been doing it myself. And while I stand by my criticisms of how the team’s worst tendencies have been too present to start the season, we are beginning to see a slight shift in how the team attacks.

Since the Nuggets game, the Lakers have been running more quick hitting actions, getting into their sets faster, and using more integrated pick and rolls throughout any given set. This has all led to a more fluid looking attack. Granted, the team has played two very poor defenses, but I’ll take any progress I can get.

But even when the team has been running some of the actions they have been running all season, the execution and attention to detail has been better than what we saw in the preseason or the team’s first few games. An example of this was a Triangle action from the Brooklyn game on Friday night:

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It may not cure all, but the Lakers getting a win sure does make things go down a bit smoother. The night wasn’t perfect, but perfect can wait for another day. The Lakers needed a win severely, if only to ease some of their own frustrations.

Regardless of how good a win makes the fans feel, I can guarantee it feels better for the players. It is difficult to put all that work in and not see the reward on the court with actual wins. As much as performing well as an individual matters, these guys aren’t out there playing tennis or golf. They want their team to win. One only needed to see the look on the face of D’Angelo Russell in the closing seconds of this game (even though he was on the bench — more on that later) or the look on Julius Randle’s after the four previous ones (even though he’d played well in most of them) to recognize the difference.

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The Lakers venture out on the road, heading east to face some teams outside California for the first time all season. Tonight they are in Brooklyn to face the Nets, one of the few teams in the same situation the Lakers are in — specifically, a team who is still looking for their first win. Someone, then, will leave this game happier than they entered it.

For this team to be the Lakers they will need to sort out how to defend much better than they have through their first four losses. The Lakers boast the worst defense in the league, mostly because they cannot contain dribble penetration and cannot protect the rim when Roy Hibbert exits. Considering Hibbert is currently only playing 25 minutes a night, this leaves the team lacking a defensive presence in the paint for nearly half the game. It has not gone well.

Managing the defensive paint is especially important against the Nets as they possess one of the best scoring big men in the league in Brook Lopez. Lopez’s ability to get points from the post as well as in pick & pops by hitting his midrange jumper will put the Lakers into help situations. While Hibbert should be able to defend Lopez well enough in post up situations, when big Roy vacates the game or when the pick & pop becomes the play, the Lakers are going to have to rotate, help, and sort out their back line defense in ways they’ve not been effective at to this point in the year.

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There has not been much to cheer for in the Lakers 0-4 start, but one player who has proven to be a bright spot is Jordan Clarkson. After a strong second half to his rookie campaign, Clarkson has shown that the hard work during the off-season and strong play from the summer and preseason were not a mirage.

Clarkson is leading the Lakers in minutes played (31 minutes a night), scoring (18.3 points per game), and is second on the team among rotation players (behind Nick Young!) in PER (20.6). Not bad for a guy taken 46th in the draft a summer ago.

While some of Clarkson’s early season success could easily be small sample sized theater — I do not expect him to make 46.7% of his three pointers on almost 4 attempts per game all year — his continued growth in certain parts of his game is clear and, in my opinion, very real.

Nowhere is this more true than his work in the pick and roll. Consider the following stats, per through Synergy (10 possession minimum):

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It should be noted, at the top, that few people thought the Lakers would win many games. In my season preview I wrote the following:

I think this team tops out at 38 wins and that’s with everything going right. When was the last time any NBA team had everything go right? When was the last time the Lakers did? That said, if this team wins over 30 games, they will simultaneously improve on last season’s win total by 10 wins and beat their over for Las Vegas.

A 10 win improvement on the 21-win dumpster fire that was last season might seem too optimistic right now. That’s where we are after the Lakers lost 120-109 to a Nuggets team missing one of their better wing scorers and their entire rotation of Centers.

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