With a young roster that’s led by a handful of players 20-years-old or younger, not much was expected of the Los Angeles Lakers this season. In a perfect world, they’d improve on last year’s 26-56 record and continue with the rebuilding process.
But more so than wins and losses, the organization, from Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson to general manager Rob Pelinka to head coach Luke Walton, stressed the importance and priority of patience so long as growth was evident.
After back-to-back wins against the Brooklyn Nets and Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers sat at .500 on Nov. 5. But they’re just 6-15 since that point, and 11-20 overall.
The Lakers just completed a particularly daunting stretch in December, a month full of road games. Although L.A. went a combined 1-3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, they were competitive in each of the five contests.
Such was the case Saturday night against the Portland Trail Blazers in what was the second of a back-to-back. Portland gutted out a 95-92 victory, to improve to 17-16 and remain in seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
“That’s another game that’s in the loss column that we could’ve won,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said, visibly frustrated.
The second-year coach also divulged that his message to the team has changed in recent weeks, because of the Lakers’ showings against playoff-caliber teams. “Earlier in the year, I was telling our guys it doesn’t matter if we win or lose,” Walton explained.
“It’s how we’re playing, it’s building our habits. But I told them [Saturday], they’ve set an expectation and a standard for themselves that I now believe they are ready to win ballgames. I thought tonight was one we let get away from us.
While Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma have come into their own at various points in the season, lending to the Lakers surprising some with strong stretches of play, the team continues to be hampered by poor free-throw shooting and turnovers.
Those are areas Walton has harped on after several losses, including Saturday. “It’s frustrating, but we’ll see how we bounce back on Christmas,” he said.
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