After performing a front-office housecleaning last February and participating in the draft lottery for the fourth straight season the Lakers have the same record they had at this stage last season.
Their 121-104 Christmas Day loss to the
They're entertaining and they're competitive and they were in the game well into the fourth quarter on Monday against the much-improved Timberwolves. They've benefited from the precocious play of
There are glorious moments when the Lakers get it and play up to the level of good opponents, as they did last week in losing two close games to Golden State and beating Houston. But there are still too many times they play down to the level of bad opponents, as they did in losing Saturday to Portland.
They too often let frustration drive their emotions. Their record could be better. It should be better, after four lottery picks. But one of them, D'Angelo Russell, is gone, and the Lakers won't get a lottery pick at the end of this season. Looking at the big picture, they're closer to establishing a solid young core. That's progress, even if it's not obvious when comparing their record to where they stood at this point last season.
"I think they've improved," Minnesota coach
Their record isn't all that coach
"It bothers me because I hate losing, but it doesn't bother me in the sense that I'm upset where we're at as a team. I love where our group is at. I love the way that they work," Walton said. "I love the habits that they're building. I think that our record could be a lot better, and I'm sure a lot of teams say that.
"With the way that our guys continue to work and to compete and to want to get better, and see that carry over into the games, just not being able to close out or come over the hump at the end of the game, that's just the next step. And that will come when you continue to have the right habits and work at them to a certain level."
They've long had their eyes on the 2018 free-agent class, which will be led by
Rumors about possible trades have filtered into the locker room.
"A very real distraction," Walton called them. "It's important to also realize that as players, you don't have control over how that plays out. So to waste energy thinking about that, to waste energy and time and mind capacity worrying about that type of thing is only going to hurt your own game. ... The good teams are able to not let that disrupt the way they're playing."
Are the Lakers good enough to block out those distractions and improve in ways that will show up in their record? "I know we competed," Walton said after Monday's game, "which is always, since Day 1 of what we've been emphasizing this year, the most important thing."
At some point, simply competing won't be enough.