When this meeting happened, the Lakers were 1-3, preparing to play the Hawks in Atlanta. Coaches came across an article that noted the Hawks were in a “soft” part of their schedule.
Before the game, the staff showed the players that story. They delivered the message that this was not who the Lakers were, they were not a soft team or an easy out. But whether they liked it or not, this was how the sports world viewed them.
There was only one way to change that perception. The Lakers set right to work doing it. They haven’t lost a game since.
“We see all the news clippings, reports saying we were gonna finish last in the league and all that,” Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson said at practice Monday. “We kind of take it a little personal. A clip before we played the Atlanta Hawks talking about they’ll stay on their soft schedule, got the Lakers coming in. We kind of take offense to that. We’re taking all that personal. We’re out there trying to prove people wrong.”
For the last week, the Lakers have been doing just that.
On Sunday they beat the Phoenix Suns to improve to 4-3, their first winning record after multiple games since the fall of 2013. It had been even longer since the Lakers had won three consecutive home games, as they did against the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and the Suns, making them undefeated record at Staples Center this season.
“The scary thing would be that you stop doing the little things that get you those wins,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “You start getting overconfident. You stop playing as hard and competing as hard. That’s kind of a natural progression when teams go on winning streaks. The winning kind of covers up a lot of the mistakes you’re making. For us, we’re going to do our best to keep pointing those out and keep trying to grow as a team.”
Growth and development were Walton’s stated goals as he entered the season. His bosses, too, expected just that. Sure, they wanted to win more. But the future was more important than the present.
Walton convinced the players to buy into his defensive philosophies — even veteran Nick Young, more famous for his offense. They’ve held two teams, the Warriors and the Suns, to 15-point quarters.
Backup guards Lou Williams and Clarkson bought into their critical roles coming off the bench, and they’ve taken turns lifting the Lakers late in games.
“Lou said that the other day, I’d run through a wall for coach right now,” Clarkson said. “He’s doing such a good job. We want to get wins for him as well as ourselves.”
There’s also the reality that they are only seven games into a season not far removed from two miserable seasons. The Lakers went 17-65 last season, and 21-61 in 2014-15.
For those who went through those seasons, this feels so good they don’t want complacency to destroy it. Their memories might be the best guard against overconfidence.
“We won 17 games last year,” forward Larry Nance Jr. said. “What are we, 4-3? That’s not enough success to get to anybody’s head at this point. We’re all still hungry and humble and really excited to keep going.”
LAKERS VS. DALLAS MAVERICKS
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. PST.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 4-3; Mavericks 1-5.
Record vs. Suns (2015-16): 0-3.
Update: The Mavericks finally won their first game of the season on Sunday, beating the Milwaukee Bucks, 86-75, in overtime as Harrison Barnes scored 34 points. They’ll still be without Dirk Nowitzki against the Lakers as he recovers from a sore Achilles’ tendon. What’s dominated the news about the Mavericks lately, though, is the fact that the team revoked the credentials of two ESPN reporters.