Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with a bonus newsletter since we skipped last week for Thanksgiving.
We’ll have another one toward the end of this week.
In this season of giving, the Lakers have been doing a lot of it. Not in a positive way (though there’s some of that too) but in negative, basketball way. In the last two games, the Lakers have committed 41 turnovers, a feat that has coincided with a time when their passing numbers have decreased.
The Lakers’ pace ranks fifth in the league overall, but during the last five games, they’ve been all the way down to 19th. Their assist-to-turnover ratio, assist percentage and assist ratio are all ranked in about the middle of the league, dragged down by the last five games when they have been last or second to last in all three categories. In the last five games they have been averaging 235.8 passes per game, more than 30 passes below their average on the year, according to the NBA’s statistics site. The Lakers consider 300 passes in a game to be their standard.
What’s changed in the last five games?
They’ve not had Rajon Rondo.
“One of our league leaders in assists has been out with a broken hand, so that has something to do with it,” LeBron James said when asked how the team gets back to moving the ball like it used to. “But I think we have the right intentions to go out there and share the ball, when guys are open we try to find them. Sometimes we’re missing guys.
“But have to just look at the film and know where passes are and where guys are gonna be. I had a blind pass today where I thought [Brandon Ingram] was in the corner in the first quarter, and he took off on me. And I threw it out of bounds. Just continue to learn one another on the floor.”
In a warped way it makes sense that the Lakers are turning the ball over when their passing numbers have gone down. Both are a function of being less cohesive offensively, and that can absolutely be traced back to Rondo’s absence.
This last week and a half was a big one for James. We’ll get to all that. But first…
Who is Josh Hart?
Last summer, before Josh Hart had played an NBA game, I spent some time with him for a potential story. As these things go, the opportunity never came to actually write that story last season, but Hart slowly but steadily made himself into an important part of the Lakers’ conversation.
We sat down again a few weeks ago and the story ran last week.
Hart went to a prestigious high school known for educating the children of presidents. It taught him how to be comfortable being who he is, how to network with different kinds of people and how to persevere through difficult times.
The school, Sidwell Friends, actually tried to kick Hart out early in his tenure because he was struggling to follow their strict rules and rigorous curriculum. His father, Moses, shared that the school didn’t have a built-in support system for struggling students because most of their students had families with enough money to pay for extra help. But Hart got a second chance thanks to the efforts of classmates and their parents and graduated from the school. A family at the school took him in and helped tutor him.
When he graduated, Moses showed him the rejection letter he received.
“He looked at it and said, ‘Wow,’” Moses recalled. “I said: ‘Don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do. Look at what you accomplished.’ He held onto that letter. I think things like that help build character and confidence. The place where he was in, I mean it was tough. I don’t think he thought he would make it.”
Since last we spoke
--James had a pair of homecomings and they both went really well for him. In the first one, he scored 51 points against the Miami Heat to help the Lakers to a win.
--The second homecoming, of course, was the more meaningful. For the first time since winning a championship for Cleveland, James returned to Cleveland in another team’s jersey. The most important clause of that sentence is “since winning a championship for Cleveland” and it’s what colored the whole evening. From the moment the fans at Quicken Loans Arena saw James, they cheered him. It was the kind of warm embrace he never received in his returns to Cleveland with the Miami Heat. It also clearly meant a lot to James.
--I stopped by the I Promise School for an update on how things were going. They let me watch a promise circle at the beginning of the day. I also checked in with the school district to learn more about how the financing of the school works. So far, James’ foundation has committed more money to the school than the yearly budget assigned to it by the state as a public school.
--Erik Spoelstra knows the pressure of coaching James, and he thinks Luke Walton can handle it.
--The Lakers are still being patient with Lonzo Ball as he works through inconsistencies. He has some great nights, and some difficult nights. He played well against the Cavaliers and Jazz last week, but not against the Heat or Magic.
--Rondo spoke for the first time since breaking his hand. He said his role with the team hasn’t really changed all that much, the only difference being now he can’t play. By that he meant that he was always serving as a coach on the floor for his teammates; that’s not something he’s just now trying as an injured player.
--I accidentally asked James the kind of question he never answers the other day. It began: “Did you say anything to Lonzo.” As I asked it, James let a smile spread over his face and as I realized he never tells us what he said to anyone else on the team I adjusted and he was amused. What he said next, though, showed a great deal of support for Ball.