Lakers falter at finish in preseason loss to the Nuggets
Luke Walton, who has a well-deserved reputation for being a player’s coach, has already won his new team over, earning high marks for his laid-back demeanor and communication skills.
But it’s only the second week of training camp, Walton joked Friday, before the team’s second preseason game, a 101-97 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center. And that leaves plenty of time for opinions to change.
Besides, Walton added, he’d rather be successful than popular.
“It’s more important to me that they buy into what we’re doing and that they know that everything we’re doing is in their best interests,” he said. “It’s not about us as a staff. It’s about trying to provide them the best learning platform and provide them the ability to get better individually and as a team.”
Stability is a big part of that, which is why Walton stayed with four of the five starters he used in Tuesday’s preseason opener, replacing only Luol Deng, who banged knees with a teammate in practice and is out indefinitely.
Metta World Peace took Deng’s place but played only the first six minutes and failed to score. D’Angelo Russell, who also started, had a game-high 21 points for the Lakers, who are 1-1 after letting a lead get away with two minutes to play Friday.
“I wanted to see what that unit would look like again playing together,” Walton said of his lineup choices.
Walton also used the same second unit of Larry Nance Jr., Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black and Jose Calderon — only one of whom has more than two seasons of NBA experience.
“I was real happy with the way we played,” Walton said. “Besides the first six minutes of the game, from that point on we really started competing. Moving the ball, playing at a pace that gives us our best chance. We did a lot of good things. The overall effort from the guys, I was very pleased with.”
The Lakers, who have 20 players in camp, used 18 Friday, with 14 contributing to the scoring. As a team, they shot 39.4% and made only 10 of 30 three-pointers.
“Right now, there’s nothing set in stone. We’re just messing with lineups still,” Walton said.
Coming of age
Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the June draft, played his first NBA game this week at the Honda Center, where he played his last college game for Duke last spring. In between he became a multimillionaire, celebrated his 19th birthday and moved across the country.
The biggest transition is just beginning, however.
Ingram has been successful everywhere he has played, winning four consecutive North Carolina state titles in high school — which wasn’t that long ago for Ingram — before helping Duke to the NCAA regional semifinals in his only college season.
He’s taking a big step up in class now, though, coming off the bench for a rebuilding Lakers team that figures to struggle. But if Ingram, who is still a teenager, is experiencing any growing pains, Walton said he hasn’t shown them.
“We’ll deal with that when we get to it,” the coach said of Ingram, who scored six points in 17 minutes Friday, getting his first NBA field goal on the dunk in the opening minute of the fourth period, then making his first three-pointer less than three minutes later. “Right now his confidence is great.
“If he ever does struggle with confidence, we’ll be there as a staff. I would expect his teammates to be there for him. Because everyone’s gone through rookie years.”
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