Losing to the Suns 118-109 is certainly a low point for the season but it’s not the lowest. The Lakers have not yet been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, something that seems like a foregone conclusion at this point. If that day comes, it will be the lowest point for the Lakers this season, and some might say the lowest point in years.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ disastrous weekend:
1. The team is not together. Saturday night I asked a few people about the Lakers’ trust and belief in each other. Luke Walton said he believes the Lakers do still believe in each other. Josh Hart gave a very long answer that began with, “We have to.” I asked Kyle Kuzma if the Lakers have a trust problem and he said “obviously” they do. Brandon Ingram said I’d have to ask each guy but he trusts the person next to him. Basketball is a sport that requires trust and chemistry and right now the Lakers just don’t have it.
2. Free throws continue to be a big issue. LeBron James missed a pair of late free throws that could have cut the Lakers’ deficit to three. James notes that those two free throws didn’t lose the Lakers the game and he’s right. But there was a significant disparity in both the number of free throws the Lakers and Suns attempted and the percentages they made. The Suns took 40 free throws — Deandre Ayton went to the line 14 times — and the Lakers took 23. The Suns made 85% of their free throws and the Lakers made 65.2%.
3. It’s time to accept that there’s more to the Lakers defensive problems than Lonzo Ball’s absence. Before Saturday’s game I asked Walton what besides Ball is going wrong. “Our energy,” he said. “The multiple efforts. To be a good defensive team you have to really fly around the court and make multiple efforts all game and I think for whatever reason, the grind of the season, the different amount of lineup changes that we’ve been going through, the personnel changes with the injuries we had. Having to change the style of play. I don’t know. Maybe it all caught up to the group or what, but we weren’t playing with that same aggressive, energetic spirit that we had for a lot of the season.”
4. Inevitable or not, the Lakers lineup changes have been difficult on the players. They’ve still not been able to find a way to start the game with energy. “We’ve tried about 25 different lineups, there’s only so much you can say before games, we don’t really need the motivation from coach or his speech,” Rajon Rondo said. “It’s just a mentality. The mind set hasn’t been what it needs to be and that’s why it’s been a roller coaster season.”