There is little shame in losing to the Portland Trail Blazers. They have lately been playing like one of the Western Conference’s best teams, and they have closers on their roster, especially one named Damian Lillard.
For the Lakers to have led by 11 points with less than 5½ minutes left was an impressive feat. They nearly beat a very good team.
But on Tuesday when the Lakers assembled for practice, they weren’t happy about what they almost accomplished.
This group is far past that.
“I don’t feel good about it,” Lakers forward Julius Randle said.
Monday’s loss was a dart thrown at the Lakers’ already dim playoff hopes. But as they go through the final quarter of the season, they’ll be working toward a higher purpose than just this season’s games.
“There’s definitely more to play for,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “I don’t get the sense at all that our guys have mailed it in. They’re playing their tails off. … They know how important it is for us to continue to build and get better. We can’t waste the last 20 games of the season. We’ve gotta use these as an opportunity to build momentum into the summer, whether it’s the playoffs or not.
“Build momentum and get confidence and get better because it’s all part of the journey that we’re on to get back to being a playoff and eventually a championship team.”
The schedule won’t be kind to the Lakers as they work to establish their culture and identity.
After playing Portland on Monday, five of their next eight games are against sure playoff teams. Two are against the Denver Nuggets, who are in eighth place in the West. Their only respite comes Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, a team that secured an unlikely blowout win against the Lakers the first time they played this season.
Still, there’s a different feeling around this team this year, one that offers reasons for optimism.
“Last year, we really weren’t playing for anything,” Randle said. “We were playing to develop us, but this year we feel like we’re playing to develop the culture and really learning how to win games.”
Walton noticed a quieter group during their film session on Tuesday. That is how the Lakers spent most of their time, rather than having a lengthy practice. With injuries — Brandon Ingram is out with a groin strain and Josh Hart is out with a broken hand — the players in their rotation are playing heavy minutes.
Lonzo Ball was also limited in practice, having bumped a knee during Monday night’s game.
“I hit it one time coming off a screen,” Ball said. “Just had to run it off and keep playing.”
Channing Frye has also been unavailable after having an appendectomy on Feb. 17. Frye was cleared for noncontact on-court activity on Tuesday.
It all meant that not only were the Lakers’ active players fatigued, but they also didn’t have that many bodies to conduct a regular practice. So after a longer-than-normal film session, the Lakers settled in for some light shooting and noncontact practice.
“Obviously there was a lot of frustration, which I like, but there wasn’t a dark cloud over us,” Walton said. “It was still laughter and joy once we got out here to the court. The film room was a little quiet, but you like that. You like that. You like guys to be angry after a loss.”
What Walton doesn’t want is for one loss to spiral. The Lakers were on a five-game winning streak before losing to Portland.
Said Walton: “We have to regroup, refocus and not let this turn into a losing streak.”
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Update: The Magic, who rank 14th out of 15 Eastern Conference teams, broke a seven-game losing streak with back-to-back wins against the Pistons and Grizzlies. They are coming off a loss to the Utah Jazz.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli