“Not great, Bob!” is the general consensus in Lakerland following a 10-point loss Wednesday night in Brooklyn. The loss was LA’s eighth straight (they haven’t won since November) and has them in the eleventh slot in the Western Conference. On top of that, our fearless leader Luke Walton got fined 15 grand for freely expressing himself in Sacramento on Monday night.
It has been far from an ideal December for the Lakers, and fresh air might not be coming for a couple more weeks. The team’s currently in the midst of their longest road trip of the season, and at this point are just hoping to make it home for Christmas. When, by the way, they get to play the third-seeded Clippers. Awesome.
I mentioned in a previous post that the Lakers have felt snakebit, where not only are things not going their way, they’re actively soaring in the opposite direction. But while the wins haven’t returned quite yet, there is some room for optimism even in the middle of an eight-game stack of Ls. Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell are back, and when those guys were rolling at the beginning of the year this was a totally different Lakers team.
The hot start to kick off the season is almost a detriment for the Lakers in their current state. Expectations of playoffs burst forth from legions of desperate members of Lakerdom, without anyone really taking the time to assess just how rational some of these expectations were — myself as guilty as anyone. Yet a funny thing remains — this team is still totally in play for a postseason berth, back just 3.5 games from the eighth-slotted Trail Blazers. That sounds like contending for a playoff spot to me. And isn’t that what we were hoping for in the first place?
It’s important to remind each other that this is a multi-year play. It’s hard to keep that perspective at times, especially when those times involve losses to the stinking Nets, but here we are. In an effort to keep my eyes on the long prize, I checked back on a couple other NBA ghosts of seasons past.
- ’11-’12 Golden State Warriors: 23-43, 4th in Pacific (66-game season)
- ’08-’09 Oklahoma City Thunder: 23-59, 5th in Northwest
Both of those teams were in the Finals within three years.
A recent article from Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus has a few recent quotes from Mitch Kupchak, and the GM expressed optimism despite the losses:
"We're about 20-something games into the season; we're a little beat-up," Kupchak said of the 10-17 [now 18] Lakers. "It's been a tough couple of weeks, but I think we're fun to watch. The young players are playing, and you're going to watch them get better and better. We're very hopeful that some of our young players will turn into really, really good NBA players."
From where I’m sitting now, none of that is incorrect. Let’s reserve judgment until that’s no longer the case.
Still, seeing a few more wins here and there would certainly make the holidays a little brighter. A visit to the Sixers on Friday night might be a nice antidote as well. It feels as if the team is weighed down with the losing, and are seemingly at risk of falling into old bad habits if they can’t snap out of it. There are certainly a few things I wouldn’t mind seeing improve over the next few games. Increased ball movement, better energy (especially on the defensive end) and getting out of the league’s bottom-five in turnovers would be a great start. I wouldn’t be terribly upset to see D’Angelo begin to imprint his leadership a bit more and try to pull this team up behind him. Injuries and minute restrictions have made that tough, but as his health improves hopefully so does his impact on the team.
Keep your eyes on the ultimate prize. Success this season isn’t fully measured by wins and losses. Just like a delicious Christmas ham, it takes a little bit to get it perfect. Or so I would think. I’ve never made a Christmas ham.