In many ways, the Clippers might not be what they’ve been for the last few seasons, but in one way they certainly are. They are still capable of dominating the Lakers.
That’s got to burn for a lot of people in the Lakers organization. The Lakers are still the more popular team, but the product on the court has a long way to go to catch the city’s second franchise.
Friday’s story of the day became about a team meeting the Lakers had on Thursday to air grievances and allow players to talk to their coaches and each other about what they didn’t like about how things were going. Friday night’s game showed that it will take a lot more than one meeting to cure what ails the Lakers.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 121-106 loss to the Clippers.
1. The injuries are still hurting the Lakers, and coach Luke Walton tried an unusual lineup to start against the Clippers. He had Brandon Ingram officially starting as their point guard and Julius Randle starting at center. We’ll get to more on Randle later. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma joined them. They lacked Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez on Friday, with Kuzma and Ingram coming off minor injuries they’re needing to manage. The Clippers dominated the Lakers at the start, but it would be unfair not to note the part injuries played in the Lakers’ struggles.
2. Defense has fallen by the wayside. Losing Ball and Lopez doesn’t help the Lakers’ defensive issues, but those issues started while both players were still available. It’s in stark contrast to the beginning of the season when the Lakers were one of the better defensive teams in the NBA. “To me that’s the No. 1 thing we’ve gotta fix,” Walton said. “It’s what we’ve been able to hang our hat on all year. We get stops on defense, we get out and run. Tonight we got out and run and we scored, but we didn’t play any defense. At least in the second half I thought we competed on defense. First half they moved the ball freely whenever they wanted. But we have to get back to taking pride in being a defensive team first.”
3. When we discuss what players are frustrated with their roles, the conversation centers on Randle. The reality is Randle is not the only player who gets frustrated by the Lakers’ rotations, but the inconsistencies in his playing time have been the most glaring.
When asked what he thought of the Lakers’ team meeting Thursday, Randle said, “It was needed.” When asked why, he repeated, “It was needed.”
The two perspectives here are easy to understand. From Randle’s perspective you could wonder if he’d play better with steadier minutes every night and the chance to find a rhythm. One could argue that if he can finish games, he can start them. Conversely, from the coaching perspective, one must consider that Randle is playing much better this year than he did as a starter last year Would the Lakers be getting the same intensity and production out of him if he were starting? It’s hard to say. Friday night Randle played well. He scored 18 points with seven rebounds and two assists. He had a plus/minus rating of negative 16, but four out of five starters had plus/minus ratings in the negative teens.
4. Ingram played point guard in high school, which is part of why his feel for the game is so natural. This summer when the Lakers were building this season’s roster, they knew early on that they probably weren’t going to bring in a veteran point guard. They still tried, but given their constraints in free agency there was an acceptance of the fact that it was unlikely.
They brought back Tyler Ennis, signed Alex Caruso to a two-way deal and envisioned Ingram as a player who could take some of the pressure off Ball. It’s not Ingram’s natural position, but in a pinch he can help with some ball-handling duties. Ingram was very critical of himself after the game. He took a big share of the blame for the Lakers’ slow start.
“Tonight I was less aggressive in that first half,” Ingram said. “Getting guys the ball, then I tried to go at some guys one on one and I didn’t think that was effective at all. Tried to be better in the second half. Like I said, I can’t have a first half like that where I don’t have my teammates’ backs, where I’m not going to the basket and not trying to make plays for myself.”
5. Did the Lakers get exhausted by the energy they expended in collisions with the league’s best teams?
“We’re in the thick of it right now and those close losses — that was a brutal month,” Larry Nance Jr. said. “We played the Rockets and Warriors six times that month. That’ll get you. We might just be feeling the effects of that. We might be in a bit of a lull but whatever it is we’ve got to snap out of it quick because it can get out of hand.”