There are big and small takeaways from a game like Monday’s 116-114 Lakers overtime loss to the Warriors. If I were doing a traditional recap, you’d likely get a lot of the smaller ones.
Ones like, hey, Kobe’s jersey got retired!, or Lonzo shot well (again), or how Brook Lopez turned his ankle, or Brandon Ingram’s scary fall — only to return and show out in 4th quarter, or, you know, Julius Randle and LARRY FREAKING NANCE detonating on Kevin Durant.
But, rather than get into the weeds on those things — things that are important, I might add, I think I prefer to take the macro view a bit more.
The Lakers are finding ways to compete in games for longer stretches, threatening to get wins in games and, in some ways, even frustrating fans due to the small mistakes they’re making that can be looked back on as costing them a win (or five) this year.
This, to me, is important.
So, while I’d be happy to tell you the Lakers missed too many FT’s or that a really tough (and bad) call against Jordan Clarkson where the ref thought his missed shot didn’t hit the rim (when it did) and subsequently waived off his put-back cost the Lakers the game, those are smaller things.
It’s that they’re getting closer to establishing and cementing their culture as a team that plays hard night to night, that defends, that plays fast, and that gives opponents all they can handle means more. Those are the things I notice. And I’m not alone.
Durant postgame: "Gotta give credit to this Lakers team. They play hard, they play fast, they're gonna be a force soon."
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) December 19, 2017
Durant’s words about “being a force soon” could just be the type of lip service paid after a tough game. Remember, too, that the Warriors were without Steph Curry and Draymond Green (not to mention Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston). So, what could have been an easier game wasn’t and after a hard fought game that went to OT, maybe Durant just felt the urge to tip his cap to his opponent.
Here’s the thing, though, the Lakers took the Warriors to overtime the last time they played too — and all those guys were in the lineup. On their most recent road trip, they went 2-2 while playing the Cavs tough for nearly the entire game and falling in OT to a game Knicks team in the losses. In the past month they’ve had a couple of bad showings (the Rockets and Nuggets games come to mind), but of their 8 losses in the last month half have been by 5 points or fewer.
I’m not trying to exaggerate things, here. The team still has many moments where they look outclassed. Where it looks like their talent does not line up well vs. their opponent. But, in reflecting, I’d argue that this team is actually losing games in ways that frustrate fans more on the level of “if they’d only not doing ‘dumb thing X’ so much” instead of the “wow, this team really isn’t any good” level. This might be a small thing or something outsiders might mock — a loss is a loss, right? — but it’s meaningful to me. It shows a certain progress.
Make no mistake, the Lakers aren’t “back”. They have a lot of growing and learning to do. Some of their mistakes are consistently repeated, which tells me they’re still not processing certain aspects of the game plan well enough or are simply not seasoned enough to learn from mistakes. But, against the Warriors, they closed with a lineup of Lonzo (20), KCP (24), Ingram (20), Kuzma (22), and Randle (23). This team is young and is learning on the job. And they’re getting closer to where they want to be.
As frustrating as losses like Monday’s can feel, I take a step back, zoom out, and see that the trajectory of where this group can go is right where I want it to be. Heading into the last week of 2017, I’ll take that every day considering where they were a year or two ago at this same exact time.