When the Los Angeles Lakers secured their 26th win of the season against the Atlanta Hawks, most would’ve expected the postgame mood around the team to be a joyous one. Not only have wins been hard to come by and thus worth savoring in recent years, but the team had already equaled their win total from their first season under Luke Walton, with 22 games still left to play.
And while the Lakers very well might have been excited about the accomplishment and celebrating in the locker room, that wasn’t the tone that came across in Walton’s postgame address to the media.
Instead of talking up the win, Walton instead harped on the problems he had with the way the Lakers played and how “sloppy” the victory was. Walton expressed confidence his players understood the need to play a cleaner game.
Walton’s criticism was warranted in some ways. The Lakers had their third-highest assist total of the year (32) but turned the ball over 23 times to do it, which was also their third-highest mark of the year.
But more notable than the fact that Walton was criticizing the Lakers was that he was criticizing them after a win. And, that the team is finally good enough to take whatever the opposite of a moral victory is (a moral loss?).
Wins were so scarce over the last few seasons, it was rare to see the the team get rebuked following a victory. Now? The Lakers are expected to beat teams like the Hawks (admittedly the NBA’s worst).
It’s been a long journey back for a team that won 21, 17, and 26 games over the last three seasons, respectively.
For players like Julius Randle, whose only experience with the organization is the futility those teams experienced, it’s obvious how meaningful it is for him to be part of Lakers team that finally is no longer a laughing stock and heading back towards the level of respectability the Kobe Bryant-led teams he grew up watching had attained.
And after three years of essentially blowing smoke about the importance of the defensive end of the floor, the Lakers have finally put their money where their mouth is. The team has jumped from ranking last in defensive efficiency the last two seasons and next-to-last in the year prior to 11th this season.
That’s huge and meaningful progress, a display of the level of commitment Walton and this team have shown to dragging this once proud franchise out of the dregs of the league.
The Lakers won’t make the playoffs this season, but they’re taking baby steps back towards that, and the biggest indicator that they’re getting back to a winning culture very well might be that the team is no longer satisfied with just winning.
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