The Lakers absorbed a wire-to-wire beating at the hands of the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, staggering into the All-Star break with one of their worst defensive performances of the season. Here are five things we learned from their 137-101 loss to the Suns in Talking Stick Resort Arena:
1. As if his inconsistent play hasn’t been frustrating enough for Lakers fans and coaches, point guard D’Angelo Russell seemed to suffer from a case of selective amnesia Wednesday night.
Russell was told that he appeared to chew out Zubac early in the game when Russell’s entry pass went off Zubac’s hands for a turnover that led to Devin Booker’s alley-oop dunk and a 21-6 Phoenix lead. Russell appeared to have stern words for Ingram after a late-game defensive lapse.
Ring a bell?
“I don’t remember, honestly,” Russell said.
Ingram shed some light on Russell’s message.
“Just to finish,” he said. “That’s basically what we’re talking about, trying to finish the ballgame and trying to regroup.”
2. While Russell, Ingram and Nick Young participate in All-Star Game activities in New Orleans and the rest of the players scatter for brief vacations and downtime, Coach Luke Walton will be busy over the break. On his to-do list will be face-to-face meetings with Jim Buss, executive vice president of basketball operations, general manager Mitch Kupchak and recently hired advisor Magic Johnson.
“It will be nice to have a day to reflect on everything, where we’re at,” Walton said. “I’ll sit down with all the coaches, talk to them, discuss where we want to go moving forward, what’s best for the guys developmental-wise. When time allows, I’m sure I’ll sit down with Mitch and Jim and Magic, see what they think is going on and take it from there.”
3. After missing six of his first nine shots, Russell warmed up and scored 21 points on seven-of-20 shooting and two of six three-pointers. With his two long-range shots, Russell tied LeBron James for the second-most three-pointers made (212) by a player before his 21st birthday in NBA history.
Russell won’t get a chance to pass James because he turns 22 on Feb. 23, the day before the Lakers play their next game. Did tying James, who is recognized as one of the top players in NBA history, mean anything to Russell?
“Yes and no, to a certain extent,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue about that, but to be mentioned with him is cool.”
4. The Suns dominated the Lakers in virtually every statistical category, including field-goal percentage (55.7% to 37.6%), rebounds (59-36), assists (32-16), points in the paint (60-34), fast-break points (41-16) and blocked shots (10-3).
Two of those blocks came on the same possession early in the third quarter, when Marquese Chriss rejected Ingram’s driving attempt, and TJ Warren snuffed Nick Young’s attempt to score on a follow shot.
Later in the third quarter, Jordan Clarkson drove for what he thought would be a fast-break basket, only to be rejected by Devin Booker.
“It started in practice [Tuesday], we had a really intense practice,” Booker said. “We kept saying, ‘There’s no way we’re going to beat each other up in practice like this and not come to the game and do it.’ We did that. We protected the rim and defended well.”
5. When the Lakers are fatigued mentally and physically, like they were in the second game of a back-to-back and in their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday night, they can look helpless, even against one of the worst teams in the NBA, like the Suns.
“Today was very frustrating, and going into the break like this is tough,” Young said. “You have to keep a level head and clear your head. We still have 20-something games left. We have to finish things off the right way. … You have to look at yourself in the mirror and see what you can do better. Come back and finish the season strong.”