Losing is never good. While I believe in moral victories and believe there are lessons learned from certain types of losses, give me a W any day of the week over even the most useful and productive of losses.
So, I don’t want to misrepresent things here, the Lakers 127-123 loss to the Warriors in overtime was stress inducing and hard to deal with. They made mistakes which cost them and missed opportunities which could have earned them a W. And understanding that frustrates me.
That said, it’s a totally different type of frustration than the type I felt when the Lakers lost to the Clippers. That game pissed me off, this Warriors game gave me a bit of promise. And, for me, that’s the big picture takeaway; that even in a loss, the game against Golden State feels like it can be something the team builds on.
Of all the performances which stood out, the most impressive was obviously Brandon Ingram’s 32 point outburst while going toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant on both ends of the floor. Ingram’s scoring efficiency — 12-21 shooting, 2-2 from distance, 6-7 from the FT line — not only reflects how well he played, but how assertive he was as well. The 21 FG attempts are his most in a game this year, while his 7 FT attempts are two above his season average. Ingram did not defer and did not hesitate, either. From the gate he came out playing with the mindset that he was going to leave his mark on this game.
This is the mindset Ingram can and should have more often, even if it’s not going to be reflected in his raw totals cited above. Ingram’s a good enough passer to turn some of those shot attempts into opportunities for teammates and smart enough to make those reads in real time. As Reed noted on twitter, Ingram’s play was one of those times his upside seems limitless and the hope is that even if the shooting efficiency or pure numbers aren’t the same, he can carry the mindset he displayed over into future games.
A different shade on the same pallet was Lonzo Ball’s performance. 15 points, 10 assists, and only 2 turnovers for the rookie guard. Lonzo’s had games like this before, but they’re usually either more “loud” (triple double or a high scoring affair) or have been somewhat of a stat accumulation in a contest that was not at this level of competitiveness.
The carry-over aspect for him, however, differs from Ingram’s in that it was the consistency in which he buried his shots and the general confidence within the flow of the game in which he sought out his opportunities. Lonzo is almost never going to be a guy who forces the action, instead looking to make the right read and the right play within the context of what the defense is doing against him. There were only a few occasions vs. the Warriors where I thought he should have taken a shot, but instead moved the ball on or turned it down in order to create a play off the dribble that never materialized.
Those types of plays can be further cut down, of course. But overall, seeing his shot go in and his understanding that the Warriors were going to encourage him to shoot prompted a bit more aggression and, with that, production (at one point he scored 8 straight points by sandwiching a layup with two three pointers). For what it’s worth, Luke Walton said post-game Lonzo’s been shooting really well this week and that he told Ball pregame he’s going to be one of the best PG’s in the league.
Confidence can snowball, both negatively and positively, so I’m more than happy to see the coaches looking to inspire some in Lonzo and then for him to have games like this one to back that up. As an aside, Lonzo’s hit 10 of his last 30 shots from behind the arc. This isn’t some astounding number, but consdiering he’s only hit 25.7% of his 3’s on the season, 33.3% is a nice jump, albeit in a small sample. If he can continue to trend up in this area (or even just hold firm at making 1 of every 3 for a little while longer), it will open up so much more of his game and, I think, inspire more confidence moving forward.
Getting back to the game, there are so many other little things both good and bad worth discussing, but I won’t bore you with all that now (I will have some notes at the end, though). What I will say, is, that Luke Walton was asked pregame how close he is to establishing the culture he wants with this group and he responded that they are, indeed, close.
He noted that the team is working hard in practice and that win or lose his guys are in the gym the next day putting in their time. He said guys are there hours before the actual practice, lifting weights and going through their individual routines with their respective assistant coaches and then go and bust their tails in the actual practice session. He then noted that when you have guys who not only are willing to work that hard, but want to work that hard, it sets the tone for how your team is going to compete nightly.
The Lakers are 8-12 and that may not be where most would want them from a record perspective. But I like what I’m seeing from this team, I like their trajectory. And while understand that in the small picture, from game to game and play to play, there will be mistakes and frustrations, that in the big picture this team is starting to get it.
And now, some notes…
*Games are filled with small errors and when you lose, those get put under the magnifying glass. I think the two plays which stand out most to me are the one’s you’d expect. First was the timeout Luke called and the throw-ahead pass Randle didn’t make after Durant’s miss with 6 seconds left in regulation. If Randle throws ahead or Luke doesn’t call that TO, the Lakers might get an open court chance to win the game. Instead, Ingram got a late game isolation which produced a fine look, but did not fall. The second was Curry’s missed FT where the Lakers could have had the ball only down 2 points and a chance to tie or win on the final possession in OT. Instead, Draymond Green moved Ingram too far under the rim on the miss and tipped out the OReb to retain possession for the Dubs. The Lakers made a tactical mistake there, having Ingram on the same side as Green while Randle was on Durant’s side. The Lakers should have swapped positions there, allowing a bulk-on-bulk and length-on-length alignment to try to secure a potential miss. This is as much on the players on the floor as it is on the coaches, so I don’t pin this solely on Walton.
*Brook Lopez needs to figure things out and get out of his slump. He was only 2-5 in this game, but that comes on the heels of games where he was 2-8, 2-6, and 2-10. Lopez needs to be an anchor offensively and not just a theoretical shooter who aids by spacing the floor. That last part matters for the team’s sets and shouldn’t be downplayed, but as we’ve said about Lonzo, this is still a make or miss league and Lopez doesn’t have the “I’m a 20 year old rookie playing the hardest position in the league” thing to fall back on.
*Related to the point above, Lopez only played 16 minutes in this game and never came back in the game after either of his shifts to start each half. The Lakers played Bogut for a short stint in the first half, but mostly rolled with Randle (mostly) or Nance (some, but not a lot) as the backup C. The Warriors are unconventional enough that this is the type of matchup that works and I’d imagine if JaVale or Zaza played more this game instead of Jordan Bell and Draymond, maybe Walton goes back to Brook or Bogut. But it’s something to keep an eye on and I’m very interested in seeing if Randle can snatch more minutes at C even against the bigger dudes who play that position (most of which are starters).
*Lineup fun: The Lakers group of Lonzo, Clarkson, KCP, Ingram, and Randle had an ORtg of 142.8 and a DRtg of 117.8 in 17 minutes of floor time together. Meanwhile the Warriors similarly slotted, and infamous, Hamptons 5 lineup of Curry, Klay, Iguodala, KD, and Draymond had an ORtg of 122.6 and a DRtg of 139.3 in 13 minutes of floor time together. Advantage: Lakers.
*CJ McCollum, how do you feel about Brandon Ingram?
*Before the game Kyle Kuzma tweaked his back going through his normal pregame routine and ended up being a late scratch. I know the conventional wisdom is that the Lakers missed him and count me as someone who believes that — he’s their leading scorer, after all. But I scroll up and read that lineup data again. Normally it would be Kuzma in place of either Clarkson or KCP in that small-ball lineup, offering more size and playing PF while Ingram gets slotted at his natural SF spot. In this game, though, I actually liked Ingram playing PF and being directly matched up with Durant. This was a long way of saying I’d have liked Kuzma to play, but the Lakers did just fine sorting things out without him — at least for one game. Get back soon, though, Kuz.
*I say this basically every game, but Julius Randle is doing some great work defensively on switches. On various possessions he found himself matched up against Steph or KD and he held his own basically every time. On one late game possession he bottled up Curry entirely, not giving him any airspace to get off his jumper while still staying in front to deny a drive. I’ve written about Randle a ton this season and my affinity for him is well known, but, man, his switch-ability at PF or C is an incredibly valuable tool for a defense to have.
*Shout-out to Jordan Clarkson, man. 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, huge scoring in OT to help bring the game back to being close after Curry tried to dagger the Lakers in the first 90 seconds of the extra frame. I don’t know what JC’s future as a Laker is. The salary cap math for next summer is troublesome and hard choices are going to get made at some point. But he’s having a really strong year in his 4th season and, like Randle, is starting to figure out how to translate his individual strengths into production that helps the team stay-in and win games.