“It’s the way we want to play.”
Luke Walton repeated the phrase before heading into the locker room after his team had picked up a 100-93 win in Phoenix, but he wasn’t talking about the way his team ended up looking Monday night.
The long-term goals for the Lakers, which are every bit as important as the short-term successes, revolve around a very clear style, one in which the team eschews dribbling for passing.
The plan, simply, is for the team to be completely infected by rookie point guard Lonzo Ball’s willingness to share the basketball that it becomes impossible for the unit to function unless it’s zipping the ball around.
“We don’t want to be a 1-on-1 team,” Walton said, adding that on Monday, the Lakers briefly showed flashes of what he wanted to see.
When Ball is on the court, his style of play can be contagious — for better and worse. On the plus side — and this is the most important thing, according to Walton — the players are seeing passing opportunities the same way that Ball, who entered the NBA as maybe the most polished passer since Ricky Rubio, sees them.
The problem, though, is that most of the Lakers aren’t as skilled at passing — and Monday, it almost cost them.
“We stopped turning the ball over. [It’s] the biggest thing that we did in the fourth quarter,” Walton said. “We had only two turnovers in the fourth, and one of them … was a dead-ball turnover. And that was kind of what we were preaching the whole game.
“We’re making good cuts and we saw the passes, but we [had] these passes that were hitting people in the knees and above the heads, so it’s something that we’ve got to keep working on.”
The very best version of the Lakers is one where those players are not just seeing the passes but completing them.
For now, though, Walton will settle for one out of two.
Here are four other takeaways from Monday night:
The Lakers played almost 15 straight minutes to close the game Monday with their prized rookie, Lonzo Ball, on the bench.
After the game, Walton passionately spoke about how important it is for young players to watch their teammates in key moments, learn from it and use it when they get opportunities down the stretch.
“We’re a team, and it shouldn’t really matter who’s out there,” Walton said. “It’s going to be different people each night, and we should all be happy for the guys that do get that chance. And I think our guys were.”
Ball, who was pretty quiet after becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, said he agreed with the decision because the team won.
And because he noticed the Suns used a Big Baller Brand shirt in a sketch, he knows inventory is moving off the shelf.
“Very creative,” he said of the spoof. “Hey man, they started off with a Big Baller T. Appreciate the purchase.”
Corey Brewer and Andrew Bogut offered important lessons to their teammates Monday, showing what professionalism looks like in the face of inconsistent playing time.
Bogut, who had played only five minutes in November, sniffed at a double-double while setting a tone in the interior after the Suns started to score too easily at the rim.
Brewer sparked the team in the second half with his energy on both ends of the floor.
Ingram runs the show
With Ball out, the Lakers turned to second-year forward Brandon Ingram to initiate the offense, something that was born out of Phoenix’s desire to pressure Jordan Clarkson up and down the floor.
“They’ve got some quick little guard over there that pick up full court and were hounding JC,” Walton said. “Brandon had been sitting awhile because he had been in foul trouble. It was a way to get him instantly involved again, and JC could get a little bit of a break as he was such a big part of our scoring.”
The Lakers turned the ball over only twice in the fourth quarter.
Under Booker’s skin
There was a bizarre moment late in the fourth when Suns guard Devin Booker, the team’s best player now that Eric Bledsoe has been shipped to Milwaukee, came off a screen and just missed hitting on a strongly defended three-point try.
After the miss, someone (an assistant coach, according to Booker) said something that caused Booker to stomp toward the Laker sideline, causing a stoppage in the game.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was in the midst of things, said it was the result of good-natured trash talk.