A 19 free-throw attempt deficit because of questionable whistle-happy zebras, wide-open shots clanking off the rim and defensive lapses: welcome to the growing pains of a young team, Los Angeles Lakers fans. Game 2 of 82 felt like Game 1 of the playoffs in a way, with a wide range of emotions flashing throughout their loss to the Utah Jazz. The Lakers reminded us what it feels like to be invested in a team again, and the pain that comes with it. For fans, and for the players.
“It hurt,” D’Angelo Russell said after the game. “When we lose we can’t be separated, that’s when we gotta come together.” Yes, it hurt.
The youngins didn’t play a great game but were in the ring throwing hooks in a grinding game, which is more than what could be said at just about any point last season. Julius Randle laid it out best, alluding to how in the past they would’ve let the lead balloon instead of pushing back. The loss is inconsequential — a lone rain drop in the ocean that is the season — but it was a crash course in the waves of frustration that can swell in this sea. Frustrating not because of the mark in the loss column, but that they lost in a game it felt like they earned. It’s impossible not to want these kids to succeed.
181 losses over the previous three seasons makes this feel so unfamiliar. Losses haven’t been bothersome for years — in fact, they’ve been valuable. We may not be having this little chat if the Lakers had won enough games to leave D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram out of arms reach. But here we are, and here they are, learning what it means to win and lose together.
This game will be lost in the shuffle of six-plus months of basketball when it’s all said and done, but there will be others just like it. Games where somehow, someway, the Lakers are battling in games they should be getting blown out of. Games where back-to-back turnovers that turn into points for the opponent are what seal the deal in an otherwise competitive matchup. Games where an offensive rebound or four are what put the final nails in the coffin. The little things are going to haunt them in tough losses, but what they take away from it is going to define their success this year.
Expectations shouldn’t be reflected by wins but how the team turns painful losses into learning experiences. The loss in Utah was the first stinger of the year; the first bruise to poke once the final buzzer sounded. The edge of George Hill driving into the paint and finishing around Randle over and over in the closing minutes of the game has dulled in the hours since a random loss in October, but it’s still there like the final merciful moments of a pounding hangover. There’s light at the end of this tunnel.
Or, as a wise man once said; “there’s so much beauty in the pain of this thing.”