Thunder stroll past Lonzo-less Lakers 114-90
Throughout the last week, Lakers coach Luke Walton has talked about how success for his team is measured in less conventional ways than wins and losses.
Because of their youth and the stage of the rebuild, it’s possible for Walton’s team to be outscored and still be a good night — if they play hard, if they show improvement, if they show fight.
But on night’s like Wednesday, where they get pushed around, where they back down from bigger, tougher players, where they shirk their responsibilities, it’s hard to define the game as anything but a failure.
Just like he did after his team lost to Memphis on Monday, Walton questioned his team’s grit following a lopsided 114-90 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
“We weren’t tough. They beat us up,” Walton said. “No matter how hard you play — we didn’t play well tonight — but if you’re not physical, you’re going to get beat like we did.”
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams’ was the primary troublemaker, pushing through Brook Lopez and Julius Randle without any push back.
“They just big-boyed us,” Kyle Kuzma said. “Steven Adams, we couldn’t stop him from getting a rebound. He was the head of the snake in that department.”
Adams had 10 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass, as the Thunder finished with a 54-30 advantage on the boards. Oklahoma City’s 21 offensive rebounds led to 26 points. And it led to Walton again wondering why his players were absent from the physical confrontation.
Already without Lonzo Ball, who is still recovering from a knee injury, the Lakers lost guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Achilles tendon strain) and Kuzma (finger joint sprain). Forward Brandon Ingram also reaggravated an ankle sprain he suffered Saturday in Dallas.
“So obviously we’re shorthanded, you lose people. That’s disheartening, unfortunate. But that was part of them just being more physical than we were,” Walton said. “We’ve got to realize certain teams like Memphis two nights ago, OKC, Minnesota, these are big, strong men. We’ve got to be ready to fight and unfortunately we were not tonight.”
Lopez, the Lakers’ 7-foot, 268-pound center, couldn’t stand up to Adams’ and the Thunder’s pounding. He scored just five points and grabbed two rebounds in 17 minutes.
And Randle, who scored all 16 of his points in the first half on a streak where he made eight straight shots, couldn’t be bothered to get to the glass.
While he collected only one rebound, he did manage to double that production when it came to avoiding questions about his play.
Following the team’s shootaround, Randle ran through the arms of a Lakers media relations staffer, declining a request to speak. And in the aftermath of getting beaten up by Adams and the Thunder, he again declined to speak, staying silent in the corner of the locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Players are required by NBA rules to make themselves available after games.
While Randle wouldn’t raise his hand as part of the problem, Walton didn’t hesitate to volunteer him.
“Obviously with Julius, I’ve said this all year, my expectations for him are high. And one of the things I challenged him to do — we have a young team — he’s our physical presence,” Walton said. “He’s our guy that needs to bully other teams and he did that offensively tonight, I thought he did a good job of that. Defensively, not just he, but we got pushed around.
“We need him to be not necessarily our tough guy, but our guy when we’re getting pushed around, [he] pushes back a little bit.”
Having Ball on the court might’ve helped Wednesday.
In addition to running the team’s offense, he leads the team on the defensive glass, averaging 5.9 rebounds per game, a stat that speaks to his talent and to a problem the Lakers have.
“He definitely helps” Walton said. “But we can’t, we shouldn’t, be relying on our 20-year-old point guard to bring the toughness to the way that we play.”
Whether it’s Randle or Lopez or Ball or just a healthier roster, the Lakers can’t afford to be building bad habits, especially when building is the most important thing they’re doing.
It’s OK if they’re going to lose, it’s a guarantee that’ll happen. It’s just not OK when the Lakers lose like this.
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