The Lakers could’ve practiced Sunday in an effort to log some extra gym time, to try to correct some of the poor free-throw shooting and turnover woes that left them winless during the first three games of their trip.
They certainly needed the work. But they needed the rest more so they got the day off.
It’s a challenge both Lakers coach Luke Walton and Phoenix Suns coach Jay Triano face with two of the NBA’s youngest rosters, groups of players who are not all conditioned for the grind of an 82-game season.
“You have to go through it,” Triano said Monday. “I don’t think there’s any way you can tell a guy that ‘we have four games this week, pace yourself.’ You can’t do that,” Triano said. “I think the veteran guys build up an ability to be effective four games in a row where young guys might play well one game and have a drop-off one game. It could be lack of concentration. It can be fatigue. It can be lack of physical development.”
It’s why the Lakers are counting on their veterans to help players such as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma learn ways to manage all the physical and mental demands that come with an NBA schedule.
Part of it is learning how to stay healthy during the grind of a season, Walton said.
“We got a young group that is really serious about becoming good and winning so … after back-to-backs they are in a weight room in a hotel getting some sort of work in. Our young players are coming in (early) and getting treatment and staying after and getting treatment.
“A lot of that is the biggest learning curve, for these players, is learning how to take care of their body. They are so young that they have never really been hurt before and gone through that.”
But that’s just part of the challenge.
“You can be sore,” forward Corey Brewer said. “You can play through that.”
The bigger test, like Monday’s game in Phoenix, is figuring out ways to stay mentally engaged when your fuel tank is running low.
“There were some days where my body wouldn’t turn, wouldn’t get going, and then other days that mentally it was really hard to fight through at the end of a road trip like this type of game,” Walton said. “But our young players are much better than I ever was so I think they will find a way to do it.”
Walton was right. While the Lakers’ free throw shooting (eight of 13) and turnovers (16) remained troublesome, they played a strong second half to take their second win at Phoenix this season, 100-93, holding the Suns under 100 after allowing 130 points in the teams’ first meeting.
James praises Ball
In New York on Monday, LeBron James told reporters that the NBA is stronger when marquee franchises like the Lakers are better. And with Ball breaking James’ record for being the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double, James wanted to send his congratulations.
“He’s going to be a really, really good point guard in our league, probably a great point guard if he continues to work on his craft, which it seems like he does,” he told reporters. “They got a good one.”
On the team’s off night in Phoenix, the Lakers’ big men went out for a group dinner, with Walton joking about not being invited.