Luke Walton was not happy after Thursday’s game against the Kings. That might seem odd considering the way his team rallied in the 2nd half, holding the Kings to 36 points over the final two periods to win the game 101-91. He was not protesting the way his team closed, of course, but rather the way they played to dig themselves the hole — at one point they trailed by as many as 19 — to need that type of 2nd half performance in the first place.
This is what Walton is trying to teach and just as lessons can be learned from losses, they also can from wins. Walton did not demean his players or question their manhood, but he did let them know coming out with lackluster energy or attention to detail is not who they want to be as a team. He drilled that lesson after a W and I’m sure he was happy to be able to do so. But, and I’ve harped on this all season, Walton is clearly coaching for something bigger than wins this season (even if wins clearly matter to him — more on that later). He’s coaching to instill his team with the right mindset, the right habits, to have them truly turn the corner and become competitive over the long haul.
Was Thursday a step in that direction? Time will tell. But I am happy to be able to lean on another win while contemplating and waiting to see how it all turns out.
The details of this game were pretty straight forward so I won’t spend much time on them. The Lakers did not come out “ready to play” (Walton’s words) while the Kings did. They had that home energy bounce, but, even more, they simply had the contest’s best player. DeMarcus Cousins controlled the contest, hitting threes when the defense laid off him and bullying his way to the rim when they crowded him. Cousins’ demeanor and attitude can too often obscure how much impact he can have, but early Thursday none of those thoughts existed. He dominated and the Lakers looked like they were wilting.
Even through all this, though, I did not think the game was over.
Lakers getting steamrolled now and still think they'll find their way back into this game eventually.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 11, 2016
As this team is want to do, they did not give up or fold. They battled back, closing the first half on just enough of a run to trim the Kings’ big lead to “only” 10 points. That push was inspired by Julius Randle, who again showed that he is as much leader as high level performer for this team. He rebounded the ball, pushed the tempo, and got baskets. The bench joined him and opened the way for another push in the 3rd period which saw the Kings lead evaporate to only a single basket by the time the quarter closed.
Then, in the 4th quarter, the Lakers simply seized the game. Various bench combinations continued the 3rd quarter push. They defended and turned those stops into buckets. Kings coach Dave Joerger tried to regain control by bringing Cousins back earlier than I’m sure he would have liked, but the Lakers neutralized the big man through physical, aggressive defense and double teams. When Cousins passed, his teammates were unable to lift him up. The result was a frustrated player who took an L he sure did not see coming only a couple hours prior.
And now, a few notes:
- D’Angelo Russell left the 3rd quarter after playing a successful 7 minutes that saw him score 8 points and dish out a single assist to help turn the game. When he sat down for his normal rest, I am guessing he did not think he would not see the floor again, but that is exactly what happened. This brings me to Walton who, as noted, is clearly trying to win games, but is also trying (seemingly) to get Russell to find his game and show he’s ready to play and lead the way the team will need him to long term. Early on, Russell was too casual with the ball, committing 5 turnovers in the 1st half. Those miscues fueled the Kings’ run and put his team behind the 8 ball. Though his 3rd quarter was strong, Lou Williams’ strong stretch to close the 3rd and open the 4th kept Russell on the bench.
- I can understand frustration with this approach. Russell needs minutes and as it stands he’s playing fewer of them than last season. Russell, for his part, is cheering on his mates when he’s on the bench and the team is winning games. In the short term, I have few concerns about how he’s being handled. His coach praises him publicly in all aspects and, when he does critique he does not demean or insult. He’s coaching him well and, in some ways hard, which is appropriate. From Russell’s end, I would like to see more attacking and using his assertiveness for scoring as a buoy for how he should play. Russell is a natural shot maker, I think he needs to find a way to play to that strength more. The playmaking will come when he threatens the defense. There is more to say on this, but I will stop there.
- Larry Nance, Jr. returned from his one game absence due to suffering a concussion and boy did he show why the Lakers missed him in the loss against the Mavs. I’m like a broken record when it comes to Nance, but here I go again: he does so many little things well that simply help you win. I love his game.
- I don’t know how long Lou Williams can play the way he is, but I’m going to enjoy it while he is. 21 more points (on 6-12 shooting) off the bench against Sac, including a key and-1 when the Kings looked like they might make a push in the final 5 minutes.
- Another +13 in the boxscore for Brandon Ingram (tying for team best with Williams). Would I like to see Ingram shoot better? Of course. Do I wish I could fast forward some of his physical development so he could bump defenders off him to create more space right now? Yes, yes I do. Still, I try not to let those desires overshadow how he is simply a net positive when he’s out there — as reflected in his plus/minus numbers nearly every night.
- I mentioned Randle already, but I just want to say again that he’s bringing productivity, but also a winning attitude and, for lack of a better word, swagger to this team. His 15/8/5 line came with a heaping dose of I-will-not-back-down attitude which, I think, is the spirit this team has adopted in always competing to stay in/get back into games. I don’t want to blow my own horn too much here, but this is the Randle I’ve thought was possible and the guy I defended to fans who said they “just don’t see it”. I’m hoping more are starting to now. This guy is good.
- Shout out to Mozgov. I read a stat yesterday — and forgive me because I cannot remember where — that Moz had not played in 6 of the 4th quarters this season. Against the Kings, when Cousins came back in early in the period, Walton turned to his starting C and he delivered. A fantastic lob dunk finish was the highlight, but he battled hard in the post, ran the floor well (even if he did not get the ball), and just continued to go hard even though you could tell he was winded.