Through the toughest stretch they’ve had this season, through frustrations about everything from playing time to trade rumors, Lakers coach Luke Walton has told his players not to worry about the things they can’t control.
He’s internalizing the same advice.
So when Walton was asked Friday morning if he wonders whether his job is in danger, his answer was simple.
“No I don’t,” Walton said. “I coach as if it’s not. As I preach to my players, control what you can control in life; that’s gotta be my philosophy as well.”
Several hours later the Lakers lost 108-94 at home to the Charlotte Hornets, a team that came in 14-23. It was the Lakers’ ninth straight loss, their longest losing streak since a 10-game skid in 2015-16.
It was their third consecutive loss by double digits and sixth in the past seven games, this one closer than Wednesday night’s 37-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers fell to 11-27 and their home fans booed them as the deficit grew to 25.
“We’re playing like garbage,” said forward Kyle Kuzma, who had four points on two-for-14 shooting.
This time the Lakers were all available. Point guard Lonzo Ball returned after missing six games with a sprained left shoulder and center Brook Lopez was playing his second game since missing eight with a sprained ankle. Julius Randle started at power forward, just like he did for most of last season, with Brandon Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rounding out the starting lineup.
They weren’t playing one of the best teams in the NBA. They weren’t playing a team that made the playoffs last year, or one that looks like it might this year. They weren’t on the back end of a back-to-back. In fact, Charlotte came into Friday night at the end of a four-game road trip.
Ingram was a lone bright spot for the Lakers. He scored 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 14 rebounds and four assists. Randle also notched a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Ball scored 11 points with four rebounds and five assists in his return. Caldwell-Pope recorded one steal in 20 minutes with no points, no assists and no rebounds.
With Ball back in the fold, the Lakers’ pace did improve. But they struggled to score early in the game and never got hot, finishing at 40%.
“We let the fact that we started missing shots early in the game impact our energy,” Walton said.
From there, the Hornets took control.
“It’s not easy,” Walton said after the game. “It’s not easy but we’re gonna fight our way through it.”
As he works to pull the Lakers through another dark stretch, Walton has had support from the top of the organization, just as he has throughout his tenure. When Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss brought in Magic Johnson to be the team’s president of basketball operations, she made sure he shared her desire to build a team around what Walton needed.
On New Year’s Eve, Buss posted a message to a fan on Twitter with a strong vote of confidence for Walton.
She wrote: “Thank you for the unwavering support. We will get there and it will be sweeter because we went through the tough times together. Luke Walton: ‘We will get through this and we will be stronger when we do.’ #Lakers Family #InLukeWeTrust”
Said Walton on Friday: “She’s been incredible. I’ve talked with her a lot during the season. I like to give her updates and she’s been around this game for a long time. She knows when to be supportive and she’s been really great to work with.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli