Five things we learned from the Lakers’ loss to Denver
The Lakers trailed by 19 points with less than a minute left in the third quarter but staged a furious fourth-quarter rally behind reserves Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac, cutting the deficit to one with 1:52 left before coming up short. Here are five things we learned from their 127-121 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
1. We could soon be seeing a whole lot more of Zubac, the 7-foot-1, 265-pound, 19-year-old center from Croatia who has spent most of this season in the development league. Zubac got meaningful minutes in the first quarter Tuesday, played almost all of the fourth quarter and finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in 26 minutes.
“I thought Zu was really good today,” Coach Luke Walton said. The Nuggets “were getting everything they wanted for most of the game. He got in there and changed some shots at the rim, made some deflections, and he had a beautiful pass to Nick [Young] in the corner that would have cut it to one. It’s only fair to give guys that are playing well, playing hard and playing the right way more opportunities.”
Zubac, who played 80 minutes in 10 games for the Lakers before Tuesday, dunked twice off nice Clarkson passes in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and scored from inside with 4:35 left to pull the Lakers to within 114-108. He made a sweet right-handed jump hook from eight feet out on the right baseline in the first quarter.
“I’ve been working hard all season and just waiting for my chance,” Zubac said. “I knew every minute in the D-League, I was working mentally, and I knew this was for my NBA development, so I was working as hard as I can.”
2. Julius Randle is in a deep funk. The power forward played some of his most inspired basketball of the season after his first child, a son named Kyden, was born Dec. 22. In his first eight games after returning the team, Randle averaged 17.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game and shot 51% from the field.
But in five games since, Randle has scored just 41 points for an 8.2 average and shot just 34.9% from the field, making 15 of 43 attempts. He had seven points, seven assists, seven rebounds, five turnovers and four fouls in 25 minutes Tuesday night and was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
“He’s probably trying to figure out a new sleep schedule at home with the new little man,” Walton said. “But he works his tail off, he wants to win, and he wants to get better. It will be nice to have him back at that high level.”
“He’s such a big part of what our success has been as far as his play-making and energy, his rebounding and pushing the ball, being able to guard multiple positions.”
3. Point guard D’Angelo Russell, who has reached double figures in only one of his last five games, joined Randle on the bench for the fourth quarter Tuesday. If what he witnessed wasn’t inspiring, it should at least be motivating.
“We were scrapping for a group to come out there and be ready to play,” Russell said. “That unit was funky, but they got it done. They were scrapping, running around. There weren’t really too many plays to be called. They got stops and scored in transition. It was nice.”
4. Those sprained ankles that Clarkson and reserve forward Tarik Black suffered Sunday night against Detroit couldn’t have been too serious. Clarkson scored eight of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and Black was a force for three quarters, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds, six on the offensive end.
“We just started playing for each other,” Clarkson said of the fourth-quarter rally, in which the Lakers outscored the Nuggets, 37-26. “We got aggressive. We had a smaller lineup, but we left it all out there on the floor. We were playing for each other, finding the open man, making the right pass and making shots.”
5. There was a lesson to be learned in the Lakers’ unselfish and relentless fourth-quarter play, one that Walton hopes rubs off on the three starters who spent the period on the bench — Randle, Russell and center Timofey Mozgov — as well as the entire team.
“They started playing for each other,” Walton said. “As much fun and energy as you try to bring, when you’re not playing for the guy next to you, that can only last so long. It’s when you’re sacrificing and you’re just as happy that he made a play as when you make a play that the joy really comes out.”
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