Just as they did for the Team USA Select Team, the Lakers’ most recent lottery selections will be teammates in the Rising Stars Challenge held during All-Star weekend in New Orleans:

The league will again make the format of this game “USA vs. the World”, so sophomore Russell and rookie Ingram will be on the same roster facing off against the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, and Emanuel Mudiay among others.

 

This is a nice honor for both players. Every year there seem to be guys left off — last year, for example, Julius Randle did not play in this game even though he’s a former lottery pick who has a high upside — who have a good argument to make the team. This year, one might even argue that Ingram might not deserve to play in this game, regardless of his draft status. I’d counter with his play in the last 15 games as an example of why he should be there, but he made it so no need. Ha.

Anyway, I like any environment where the team’s young guys get exposed to more talent and good coaching. This game won’t be “serious” nor will it count for anything, but just to have these guys invited, seeing what the all-star experience is for the guys who make the big game, and getting enough of a taste to (hopefully) continue to inspire their work ethic to some day get there themselves is a nice carrot for them.

The Blazers again? Tonight’s game in Portland will be the 3rd time in 20 days these teams have played. The circumstances in this game are different with Russell not traveling with the team due to his MCL sprain/strained calf, but besides that there’s really nothing new to add about a match up between these squads.

I mean, we can argue about whether Brandon Ingram or Jose Calderon should start, if that’s your thing. I think it’s the latter since my guess is that neither approximates what Russell brings and that Ingram’s defensive ability does not yet translate to guarding guys like Lillard or even McCollum. His length and off ball work in passing lanes matters so much more against guys more his size, not the jitterbugging, P&R heavy types in the Blazers’ backcourt. If you feel differently, though, fine.

Beyond that, though, what is there to discuss? Randle vs. Aminu? Whether Lou/Clarkson can get buckets against what has been a porous Blazers’ defense? Whether Evan Turner continues to be a thorn in the Lakers’ side with his mid-range shooting and shot creation for himself and teammates as a primary ball handler in transition? I mean, these things surely matter, they’re just not new ideas and I think it’s pretty fair to say that if these things tilt in the Lakers’ favor, they’ll win. If they don’t or if Dame/CJ score in bunches, the Lakers’ lose.

It sounds simple. But it actually is simple. Sometimes the game just is.

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I know during Sunday’s 49 point drubbing at the hands of the Mavericks, many Lakers’ fans threw out a bunch of four letter words. After the game, though, the one which might have been most uttered by fans wasn’t an expletive, but rather a reference to what the team’s strategy should be for the rest of the year: tank.

With the Lakers falling to last in the West and now in possession of the 3rd worst record in the league, the draft pick ramifications of the Lakers’ position is not lost on anyone who roots for the Lakers. So, with that, in the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, me and Pete discuss the direction of the team, what approach they should take in the 2nd half of the year, and, briefly, a couple of – gulp – prospects in the upcoming draft.

Click through to listen to the discussion.

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The Lakers have found their way back to the bottom of the standings. After losing to the Mavs on Sunday and with the suddenly frisky Suns beating the Raptors, the Lakers have dipped to last in the West and now, by percentage points, are in possession of the league’s 3rd worst record. That 10-10 start seems like it was a decade ago.

First, it should be stated clearly: there’s no one thing that is wrong with the Lakers. There’s no single item that, if fixed, turns their season around. They are poor defensively in a variety of ways, are prone to frequent stretches of offensive struggle, have had issues with staying healthy, suffer through general inconsistency, and have a coach who has shown to be somewhat stubborn with (certain types of) lineup decisions. All of these things have impacted how the team’s performed. Changing one thing (besides, maybe, their health) doesn’t suddenly completely change their record.

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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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