Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your first newsletter of the new year.
The Lakers weathered a tough spell that included a four-game losing streak and the first mini-drama of the season. And now the Western Conference leaders are back in a favorable part of the schedule.
They ended December with a pair of wins on back-to-back nights and then scratched out a win over the Phoenix Suns after building a 36-point lead. We are now back to hearing the Lakers players and coaches discuss the importance of learning through winning, instead of needing losses to prompt improvement.
The lesson they hoped to learn from their game against the Suns was that letting your guard down can lead to losses.
“It’s not more so just looking at that game but games in the future as well,” Anthony Davis said. “It might be a team that we have like that who’s a better team than Phoenix that can come back at you and win those games. So we’ve got to make sure that when we’ve got leads like that we’re able to hold those leads and rest guys in the fourth and our second unit comes in and is able to build that lead or maintain a lead. So it was definitely a learning experience.”
A note on Frank Vogel
During the Lakers’ long road trip before the holidays, which feels like ages ago now, I spent some time learning about Frank Vogel’s coaching style and how his past informed that. The story included the first interview assistant coach Jason Kidd has done since the Lakers hired him. Kidd has been declining interviews because he didn’t want to bring the focus onto himself, but agreed to talk for a story about Vogel.
One of the more interesting conversations in the course of reporting that story was with Dan Burke, a longtime assistant in Indiana, where Vogel twice led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals. Burke has a lot of affection for Vogel.
One thing I heard over and over again from players was that Vogel is good about having difficult conversations with players about minutes, starts and their roles in general. Burke helped me understand the roots of Vogel’s comfort with that.
“It took him a while to really get used to it,” Burke said. “That’s part of growing, that’s part of learning. Stuff you don’t want to do. You get out of your comfort zone, and he got to where he was good at it. When he first took over, we had some disgruntled guys. There were guys he’d try to take off the court and just tell them like it is.”
Vogel became the Pacers head coach at midseason after Jim O’Brien was fired.
“When you change horses in midstream like that there wasn’t time to go to every guy,” Burke said. “That fell onto the rest of us, his staff. But as we kept going he was making the right decisions. He still hated them, but he made them and he opened up to the players about them.”
Since last we spoke…
- The Lakers’ losing streak reached three games when LeBron James missed a game due to what was listed on the injury report as a back strain, but might actually have been, or included, a groin injury.
- Then came the fourth straight loss — this time against the Clippers. The Lakers haven’t yet beaten their in-arena rivals this season.
- During that Clippers game, Patrick Beverley kneed James in the groin area, which he said reaggravated a nagging groin injury he’s had. It is on the other side of his body from last year’s groin tear and James said it’s much less painful than how he felt after sitting out five weeks last year.
- Our Helene Elliott noted that while the Clippers say their game against the Lakers is just another game, they don’t act like it.
- Kyle Kuzma’s longtime trainer Clint Parks posted some messages on his Instagram story that criticized James and contrasted him with Kawhi Leonard, whom Parks used to train. It led to the aforementioned mini-drama, which you can read all about here.
- And then the Lakers stopped losing, first with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
- The Associated Press chose James as the male athlete of the decade, a day before his birthday. In an interview with Tim Reynolds for that story, James’ accomplishments this decade were read back to him. “That’s all?” he said.
- Two teams met on the second night of back-to-back games and the Lakers prevailed over the young legs of the Dallas Mavericks. They could tell Dallas was tired.
- Overall in December, the Lakers took care of business against sub-.500 teams and were just under .500 against teams with winning records. My colleague Broderick Turner took a look back.
- LeBron James threw himself a last-minute birthday party on Monday. It also served as a New Year’s Eve bash and another team bonding activity.
- Not surprisingly, the Lakers and Clippers led All-Star voting in the first returns. James and Davis were the top two vote-getters for the front court, while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were third and fourth.
That’s all for now. As always, please consider subscribing if you like what you’ve read, and send along any thoughts or questions. Until next time.