Column: Luke Walton’s process starts paying off for the Lakers
Luke Walton’s intentions were noble, and they were sound. At the beginning of a season he knew would be difficult, a time when the Lakers’ kids would finally escape the all-encompassing shadow of Kobe Bryant and would have to learn how to win on their own, the Lakers coach declared he would pay less attention to results than to his players’ growth and development.
There would be mistakes, he knew, and the standings would sometimes be an ugly sight.
“The game plan going in is not to let that affect us as a team, as players, as a coaching staff,” he said on opening night. “As long as we’re trying to do the right thing, then at this stage we should be OK with that.”
His emphasis remains on development and growth, although he has found it tougher to accept losing than he had anticipated. Nights like Sunday, when the Lakers dazed the Clippers with a 13-0 run to start the third quarter and held on for a 111-102 win over their Staples Center co-tenants, stand as evidence that he was right, even though the process has been painfully difficult.
“I think it was needed. It was. It was one win and we all know is a long season, but it felt nice to get this one back home,” Walton said. “We really had to come together to win this game tonight.”
Less than two minutes into the game, Walton’s face wore a now-familiar expression of exasperation because of his team’s sloppiness. But just as he has stayed with his plan to emphasize small details now in hopes of making big gains later, his players stuck with their task Sunday in ending an 11-game losing streak against the Clippers, who started the game without Blake Griffin (knee surgery) and Chris Paul (groin), and lost J.J. Redick to a sore left hamstring in the second half.
The Christmas crowd fed off the Lakers’ energy and persistence, just as fans had savored the hope and excitement generated during the Lakers’ surprisingly good 7-5 start this season. That success led them to believe the Lakers’ rebuilding process might not be so long after all; the team’s subsequent plunge — losses in 12 of 13 games before Sunday night — demonstrated they’d still have to be patient.
Walton acknowledged that the deluge of losses had tested his own resolve.
“It’s hard to lose but it’s important for us, and I’ve gotten caught up in it myself, letting, even the winning, early on, get us off track a little bit. And then, obviously, the losing that’s happened lately, same type of thing,” he said before Sunday’s game.
“It’s frustrating. You get angry. And sometimes that blurs your vision of where we’re trying to go as a team. And it’s important for us to continue to focus on that process and to focus on getting better at the simple things in the game and building from the ground up.”
They have a lot of building left to do, although Sunday they got enough help from their bench in the first half and enough solid contributions from their starters in the second half to push past the lethargic Clippers. Doc Rivers’ team is 8-8 since a Nov. 25 loss at Detroit, including an ugly number of losses to sub-.500 teams.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Lakers forward Luol Deng fight for a ball during the first half.(Ringo Chiu / AFP / Getty Images)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram loses control of the ball after crashing into Clippers forward Marreese Speights during a drive to the basket in the first half.(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)
Actor Kevin Hart talks with Clippers guard Chris Paul during the second half/(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Julius Randle dunks against the Clippers in second half action.(Ringo Chiu / AFP/Getty Images)
Clippers guard J.J. Redick drives past Lakers Jordan Clarkson in second half.(RINGO CHIU / AFP/Getty Images)
Lakers head coach Luke Walton complains to referee Bennie Adams in the second half.(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)
Blake Griffin celebrates with his teammates after a Clippers basket.(Ringo Chiu/ AFP/Getty Images)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan grabs a rebound against Lakers in second half.(RINGO CHIU / AFP/Getty Images)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram is fouled by Clippers forward Marrieese Speights during the first half.(Ringo Chiu / AFP / Getty Images)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram fouls Clippers forward Brandon Bass while playing some tight defense during the first half.(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan dunks over Lakers center Timofey Mozgov for the first basket of the game.(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)
Clippers guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin talk with teammates Wesley Johnson and Jamal Crawford on the Clippers bench during the first half.(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)
Lakers guard Nick Young celebrates after scoring against the Clippers during the first half.(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)
They’ve played without Griffin before and survived, but they were wobbling Sunday as they started a stretch of five games in seven nights. This week will test not only their depth but their character.
The Lakers, meanwhile, haven’t given up on themselves or the validity of Walton’s approach. It will take time, but it appears to be the right path.
“The guys have been great,” Walton said before the game. “We’ve talked stuff in team meetings. We’ve had different players step up and say different things on this road trip, and the guys seem to really be into what we’re doing, which is a good thing. Because I think it shows a lot of who they are and who they want to be, that they’re sticking together even though times are tough right now. because a lot of times losing will bring out the worst in people, and our guys are still out there giving that effort and competing.
“I’ve told them I’m very convinced we’re going to get better. We’re going to keep getting better and eventually because of that, wins will start happening again.”
One win happened Sunday. That’s a start. It can be a launching pad toward better days or a holiday surprise. It’s their choice.
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