Lakers come away with a clunker in Detroit

Pistons center Andre Drummond drives down the lane against Lakers center Tarik Black during the first half.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

So many times this season, the Lakers have thought they figured out something, only to find they hadn’t quite yet.

They figured out how to play better in the third quarter, until they didn’t. They figured out how to start games better, until they didn’t. They figured out how to limit turnovers, until they didn’t. After a while, Lakers Coach Luke Walton started hesitating to declare his team had “turned a corner” about anything. He knew progress could be fleeting and deceptive. The real progress takes longer.

That was the lesson from Wednesday’s 121-102 loss to the Detroit Pistons. It marked the first time in 10 years the Lakers were swept by the Pistons in the season series.

“I try to remind myself, that’s how this whole thing works,” Walton said. “It’s never just a clean easy ride on trying to get back to the top.”

The new-look Lakers (18-37) stuck with the same starting lineup of forwards Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, center Tarik Black and guards Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell. Ingram had another strong game, scoring 15 points on six-of-10 shooting. Randle led the starters with 17 points, matched by Lou Williams’ 17 off the bench. Russell took only two shots and scored two points with five assists.


“It’s just a small sample size,” Walton said of the new lineup. “It’s tough to evaluate after two games, but we’ll stick with it for at least a while longer and then we’ll have a better idea of how it’s looking.”

Monday was the first time the Lakers used this starting unit, with Ingram replacing Luol Deng and Black replacing Timofey Mozgov.The Lakers manhandled the Knicks, 121-107.

Against a more locked-in opponent Wednesday, the Lakers were dominated.

“It’s just gotta be better,” backup forward Larry Nance Jr. said. “The whole game was unacceptable from our effort, defensive intensity, focus. The whole thing was just a mess.”

They knew how strong the Pistons could be inside, led by center Andre Drummond (24 points and 17 rebounds), but still gave up 70 points in the paint. The Lakers were outscored by 24 points in the paint, two days after outscoring the Knicks by 26.

“It’s tough to clog the paint and stay in the paint when guys are knocking down shots,” Black said. “But we have to do a better job of making those guys miss. Playing defense beforehand and getting our job done early so that guys don’t even get those looks, but we also stop their main action, which is the lob to Drummond.”

On Monday, the Lakers committed only eight turnovers. On Wednesday, they had 12 in the first half.

Still, they trailed by only six points at halftime, due in part to a put-back dunk by Nance with two seconds left in the half. They were lucky, then, that the Pistons had scored only six points off turnovers. That luck changed.

Within the first two minutes of the second half, the Lakers turned the ball over twice, and both times the Pistons capitalized with dunks, setting a tone for the rest of the game.

The Pistons led by as many as 22 points in the third quarter on the way to their 25th win of the season. The Lakers suffered another loss in a season that has tried their rookie head coach. There have been nights that pleased him, even during the 10-day trip the Lakers finish Friday in Milwaukee.

Other times, there have been nights like this.

“It’s natural in this process… that you have some success and guys kind of feel good and you take some steps back,” Walton said. “I remind myself that we continue to stay positive, we continue to work our tails off in practice, we continue to preach to the players what is important value-wise to how we want to play basketball.”

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli