A sense of shock and confusion came with the news Sunday evening that Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau had been fired.
The report came just hours after Minnesota had thoroughly dominated the Lakers, and you wouldn’t think a coach would be dismissed right after coming off a 22-point win. Of course, Thibodeau’s problems with the Timberwolves had been brewing all season, and the decision to fire him was clearly made before Sunday’s game. It was harsh reminder of the precarious situation in which coaches often find themselves.
While some tried to draw parallels between the Timberwolves’ actions and the Lakers’ situation, it’d be a stretch to blame Lakers coach Luke Walton for what the team has been going through lately. They are struggling without LeBron James and and have been missing Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma for the last couple of games.
Here are five takeaways from last night’s 108-86 loss to the Timberwolves.
1. It’s no coincidence that once the Lakers subbed in some veteran players, their play began to settle down just a little bit. The Lakers are asking a lot from players such as Tyson Chandler and Lance Stephenson, who come off the bench and can have a stabilizing effect. Michael Beasley is also increasingly becoming one such player. Stephenson, Beasley and Chandler all had plus/minus ratings significantly better than the Lakers’ starters.
2. I asked Walton if Brandon Ingram was putting too much pressure on himself in James' absence, and whether that was causing him to not perform as well as he could. Walton said that was part of it. Ingram had a surge in the second quarter, but it was only temporary. Ingram is at his best when his assist numbers are high. He had nine assists in the Lakers’ home win against Sacramento (it’s no coincidence that the Lakers beat Sacramento that night), and five in the next game, but no more than three in any other game since Christmas.
3. Lonzo Ball is at his best when he can affect the game even without much scoring. On Sunday, Ball, who didn’t score at all, struggled to do both. “We’re down a lot of scorers right now,” he said. “I’ve gotta pick up that load. Obviously I didn’t do it tonight. I gotta pick it up tomorrow.”
4. It’s very clear the Lakers are getting frustrated by their situation. That’s understandable. Losing James is a big blow, but to lose Rondo after just getting him back and then to be without Kuzma for 2 1/2 games (so far) is tough. Still, there was a lot of talk in the postgame locker room about how they’d have to figure out a way to not let that frustration derail their game. Stephenson said: “We’re still good enough to win games. We just gotta believe that. I think our guys don’t believe that right now. We’re letting the excuse of the guys being out affect us.”