Before Sunday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lakers Coach Luke Walton noted to his team that they were essentially playing with house money.
He wanted to come away from the past week’s three-game road trip with at least two wins, and had already accomplished that with wins in Sacramento and New Orleans. Though motivated to sweep the road trip, Walton was generally pleased with the trip.
“Good road trip,” Walton said. “Two-and-one. Keep our heads up. Go home. Take the day off tomorrow. Let the guys rest up and get back to work on Tuesday.”
The trip showed a marked improvement over the Lakers’ first road trip of the season. That four-game stint featured games in Utah, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Atlanta. The Lakers lost all but their final game against the then-undefeated Hawks. That win instilled a confidence the Lakers carried with them as they won four of their next six games.
“We did get two quality wins on the road,” Nance said. “ To start out 1-0 in our division is pretty nice.”
That didn’t mean losing felt any easier.
“We had the opportunity to go three-for-three, but we just didn’t bring it tonight,” Lakers forward Julius Randle said. “… We’re trying to build towards something, and we had an opportunity to get a win, and we’ve got to take advantage of those. It’s fine. We get to go home and stay home for a little bit and try to protect home court for a little bit.”
From 2010 until January of 2014, Lakers forward Luol Deng played for Timberwolves Coach Tom Thibodeau when Deng played for the Chicago Bulls and Thibodeau was their head coach.
Each man made an impression on the other.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for,” Deng said. “You could see it those guys are going to get better as the season goes on. They really execute well.”
What stayed with Thibodeau most was Deng’s influence in the locker room.
“He was the ultimate glue guy,” Thibodeau said. “He was, I look at what he did in Chicago. He was our best leader. Initially it was a team searching to try to win. He embraced everything.”
Deng finished with 13 points against the Timberwolves and three rebounds. Heading into the game, he’d been averaging 5.6 points per game, shooting 30.6%. It’s a scoring output that Walton wasn’t especially concerned with because he likes the looks Deng is getting. Walton said he wants Deng to keep taking the shots if he has them.
“I’m still trying to be consistent with what I do,” Deng said. “I’m not really satisfied with where I’m at.”