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Luke Walton’s Lakers coaching job said to be safe in wake of loss to Hawks

Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game
Lakers coach Luke Walton looks on during the first half the team’s 143-120 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.
(Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

There have been no internal discussions about Lakers coach Luke Walton’s job status in the wake of the team’s loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, according to people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly on the sensitive matter.

Walton “will definitely finish the season” and has the full support of the Lakers’ front office, one person said.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are all on the same page regarding Walton being the coach for the rest of the season, the people said.

Buss especially wants to give Walton every opportunity to succeed, one person said.

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“Nothing is going to happen with Luke,” that person said. “There hasn’t even been any talk about it and there won’t be any talks about it. Luke will definitely finish the season and he has the full support. So any talk in the media or on social media can be put to bed about Luke. He’s not going anywhere. There has been no conversation about it.”

The Lakers want Walton to hold his players “accountable.” The Lakers’ front office personnel want to see player and team improvement as well as Walton make better in-game adjustments, the people said.

One of the many sore points with the front office is that the Lakers are the worst free-throw shooting team in the NBA, at 68.7%, after finishing last in the league in the same category last season at 71.4%.

During the loss to the Hawks in Atlanta, there seemed to be some “disconnect” between Walton and the players, one person said.

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LeBron James didn’t look “totally engaged,” despite producing a triple-double of 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds, one person said.

Another person said all the players had “bad body language” during the loss, which dropped the Lakers below .500 (28-29) for the first time since November. The Lakers are currently 10th in the Western Conference standings, 2½ games behind eighth-place Sacramento (30-26) for the final playoff spot..

Another person said that Johnson, who was at the game in Atlanta, didn’t like how the team played with such “low energy”.

The Lakers’ 42-point loss to the Indiana Pacers last week was disturbing to the front office, one person said, and the poor defensive effort in the 23-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday was problematic.

The stirring, last-second 129-128 win at Boston between those defeats was impressive, one person said, and that’s the kind of effort the front office wants to see.

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In evaluating Walton this season, the Lakers have taken into account all the injuries he has had to deal with heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

Starting point guard Lonzo Ball is still out recovering from a sprained left ankle. He’s expected back after the break.

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James missed 18 games while recovering from a groin injury. Rajon Rondo was out five weeks because of a broken right hand and sat out another four weeks after he had surgery for a Grade 3 sprain of his right ring finger. Brandon Ingram missed two weeks because of a sprained ankle.

But there was a time when the Lakers were healthy andhad climbed to fourth in the West in late December.

With 25 regular-season games remaining, the front office wants to see the Lakers make a push for the playoffs by playing better, more inspired basketball the rest of the way.

“Everyone believes in Luke,” one person said. “Now it’s about him getting the best out of the team.”


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