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Lakers! Why Luke Walton sees more hope through this year’s losses than last year’s

Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly newsletter.

I write to you from Philadelphia where the Lakers will play the 76ers on Thursday night. It’s the first of the four games on this road trip – a trip that will last eight days (nine for those of us flying commercial). If this seems like a long time to be on the road for just four games, it is.

That’s been a subject of small talk around the league this year. Where you might have done a four-game trip in five or six days, they’re now so spread out it might take five days to complete a two-game road trip. The Houston Rockets are about to finish an eight-day trip that will include just three games.

This is by design. The NBA wanted to reduce the wear and tear on its players and so they eliminated the practice of scheduling four games in five nights. They also reduced the number of back-to-back games. And while the Lakers have had several back-to-backs already this season, they’ve also had several multi-day breaks.

They had so much time off around Thanksgiving that players got two days completely off before two practice days. Their last game before Thursday’s in Philadelphia was Sunday’s game against the Houston Rockets. That didn’t happen the last few years.

Whether that improves the games and reduces the number of rest days players are given remains to be seen.

The Lakers haven’t had a great week. We’ll get into all that in this newsletter. But first…

Progress is helping Luke Walton handle the Lakers’ losing

Sometimes Lakers coach Luke Walton says things that he immediately knows can be misconstrued in soundbites or headlines. When that happens he makes fun of it. After Phoenix, when a moment Lonzo Ball had reminded him of Kobe Bryant, Walton quipped that he could see the tweets now: “Luke Walton calls Lonzo Ball Kobe.”

It happened Sunday night after the Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets. Walton gave a long, nuanced answer when asked if the losing is tougher to take now that the Lakers aren’t tanking. (The question didn’t use the word tanking, but I’m here to connect the dots for you).

“I will continue to preach to you that it’s not about wins and losses to us, but it still -- it hurts to lose and it’s tough to sleep after losses,” Walton said. “But it doesn’t hurt as bad this year because I can see where this team is and where this team is going and the individual progress that’s being made.”

Walton noted that the Lakers are getting blown out less often than they were in the preseason and in the first game of the season, which they lost to the Clippers, 108-92. He believes that is happening because they are doing some things consistently that will help them in the future. Habits the Lakers are trying to instill are now sticking.

“Those things that we’re doing I truly believe as our young players grow and develop and turn into studs in this league, those are going to be the things that allow us to win consistently,” Walton said. “It’s, in a weird way, a little easier than it was last year.”

When he finished he chuckled, “I can see the headlines now: Luke Walton says it’s easier to lose.”

Last December was ugly for the Lakers. Almost as ugly as it gets. The Lakers lost eight games in a row and sent Walton into a “dark” place, as he put it. He hadn’t lost that way much in his career and went through plenty more of that. You’ll recall they went 2-14 in December, suffered injuries and came out of the month bloodied.

This December has the potential to be as difficult. They’ll still face the Rockets and Warriors two more times, Philadelphia is no slouch, and the Lakers will finish this road trip in Cleveland.

By the end of last year, Walton figured out how to get through a losing season without feeling miserable all the time. Now his team is giving him reasons not to be morose after losses.

Since last we talked

--Ball has had some calf issues. It was alarming to see Ball limping in the locker room after Saturday’s game in Denver. The limp was more about just having been through treatment to help loosen his calf muscles, which tightened up before and during the game he just played. I wondered if Ball should have sat out against the Houston Rockets since that game was the next day, but he went through workouts and said the calves felt well enough to play. And while Ball has staunchly refused to blame the calves for his performance against the Rockets, they clearly bothered him.

--Nuggets guard Jamal Murray did an exaggerated dribble around Ball as the clock expired on Denver’s 115-100 win over the Lakers. It added insult to injury as the Lakers had just surrendered a 15-0 run to end the game, failing to score for the final 3:57. “I thought it was immature,” Walton said of Murray’s antics. “If I was on Lonzo’s team I would’ve fouled him pretty hard after that. … It just reinforces the message that we’re trying to get across to our team. That’s is, we have to trust each other because we’re all we have. Other teams love [it], the fans are laughing, their players are laughing. Teams like beating up on the Lakers. We have each other. Because that’s who we have to rely on. We gotta have each other’s backs and we’ve gotta trust each other to go into all of these games knowing that our best chance of winning is doing it united as a team.”

--Corey Brewer thinks Brandon Ingram will be an all-star in the next two or three years. The caveat he gave to this was that Ingram could do that as long as he kept working the way he did this past summer and the way he has been during the season. His quote is in this story I wrote about Ingram’s development.

--Brook Lopez isn’t completely comfortable in his new role. He’s averaging 23.1 minutes per game, well below his career average, is being subbed out for defensive purposes and he hasn’t found a rhythm in the Lakers offense. Lopez has made two three-pointers in the last six games and went four games without making one. He also went four games without scoring in double figures, returning to do that against a Nuggets team with a dearth of big men. Here’s a look at where Lopez’s mindset is right now.

Coming up

The Lakers will face the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night. Joel Embiid scored 46 points the last time these teams met, and he thinks he can do it again.

Schedule

All times Pacific

Thursday at Philadelphia, 5 p.m., TNT

Saturday at Charlotte, 4 p.m.

Tuesday at New York, 4 p.m., ESPN

Until next time

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