The Lakers Experience Early Growing Pains…Literally

randle

Julius Randle had another double-double, with 21 points and 10 rebounds in yesterday’s loss.

The Lakers are 10-14. Considering what was to be expected of this young Lakers team after 24 games, we have reason to be excited and hopeful. However, as of late, the Lakers have met a familiar foe that has been victorious over the last few years. It marred the genius of Mitch Kupchak in putting together a superteam of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol with an early injury to Steve Nash, a nagging shoulder injury to Dwight Howard and the season-ending Achilles injury to Kobe Bryant. The following year it continued when a then 10-9 Laker team that was clicking on all cylinders with their “Bench Mob” saw their bench and starters slowly go down one by one. So battered were these Lakers that they ended up with a D-league unit on the court. The Byron Scott years were marred by more than injuries, but you get the point.

Which brings us to today. On November 18th the Lakers began a tough stretch with a home game against the San Antonio Spurs. From game to game, the Lakers have been forced to juggle the lineup with the following injuries racking up in just a short time – D’Angelo Russell (knee), Julius Randle (hip pointer) who has returned, Nick Young (out at least 2 more weeks with a strained calf), Larry Nance Jr. (sat out a few games with a knee contusion) who is slowly coming back, Tarik Black (ankle sprain) who is day to day and Jose Calderon (out 3-5 weeks with a strained hamstring). To be perfectly blunt, the team that had the whole NBA taking notice is somewhat of a patchwork due to these injuries to both key starters and bench players.

Although the Lakers have managed to fight and somehow stay afloat, it seems the injuries have begun to take its toll. The Lakers have lost 9 of their last 12 and are on a 4 game skid. And why wouldn’t it take a toll? The Lakers have been fighting without their starting backcourt (consider Golden State without Curry and Thompson or Washington with Beal and Wall). Their claim to fame has been their bench which has become depleted with on and off losses of Nance Jr. and Tarik Black and the recent loss of Jose Calderon. Their athleticism has been diminished, especially in the starting lineup. Furthermore, I don’t care who you have on your team, chemistry is still paramount. There isn’t much opportunity for that with these forced lineup changes. So the Lakers have a legitimate excuse for being shorter on talent at the moment.

But…let’s not remove ALL of the blame from these Lakers. The Lakers still have yet to fully commit to defense for 4 quarters, giving up about 112 points a game over their last 12. Since they are unable to put up big numbers with key guys out, this becomes an even bigger issue. They’ve had a few clean games, but they still have yet to keep their turnovers 10 or less. Teams are turning them over and getting out in transition. When you are depleted, the last thing you want to have to do is chase the opposing team all night after they’ve stolen a bad pass. This is the thing that Coach Luke Walton is stressing. For the most part, this team has really competed. However, as of late they’ve laid a few too many eggs against Houston, Golden State and Toronto. They’ve also failed to execute early in games and are not able to turn that last minute comeback into a victory.

Give the coaching staff credit in keeping the guys focused and keeping them from getting down on themselves. In a recent interview with Larry Nance Jr. after the loss to Houston, Larry highlighted how they need to “let this one sting” and then move on to the next game. These Lakers have the right attitude. We do have to remember that they are young and many of these guys have never experienced such adversity. This is actually a good thing to experience early in the season however. Given that the Lakers do return to full strength in the new year, we could see them reel off a few 3 and 4 game winning streaks at a time.

Right now, the Lakers have to really put a serious focus on the defensive end. 134 points is just awful. Even so, if you take a look around the league, this is now the standard. Teams are shooting lights out and several different teams are getting blown out by 20 or more on a given night. This is the trend of the league now. So this isn’t just a Lakers thing. What the Lakers will need to do is insure that they can force the opposing teams to play ugly. They need to play physical, have active hands and get back on defense. Their opponents must average no more than 95 points.

This stretch offers a couple of opportunities. It offers an opportunity for guys like Brandon Ingram and Thomas Robinson to really step up. It also offers and opportunity to hone their defensive ability. This will set the stage for a very strong unit once the guys get back.

The fans and media have seen that this team is clearly on the bubble for that 8th and final playoff spot when healthy. With that in mind, this is time to keep watching the games and cheering your team on. Be patient with your Lakers. The future is still very bright.

Let’s see if they can get back on track against the Phoenix Suns on Friday.

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