LOS ANGELES- The Lakers are not among the NBA’s elite teams. Head coach Luke Walton is aware of that reality, and it’s why he was willing to accept they lost to the San Antonio Spurs (45-13), the second-best team in the Western conference.
“San Antonio is a better basketball team than we are, so it’s not a surprise that they beat us,” Walton said.
What irked Walton was how the Lakers lost.
“I thought our our heart, our competitive spirit — or lack thereof — especially in the first half, was a bigger issue,” Walton said when asked about the Lakers’ issues with turnovers against San Antonio. “We came out today, and I don’t know if it was the early start or what. I love our guys and I’m supportive of them and I think they did a good job in the second half, but that first half, that can’t happen if we’re trying to build and trying to get somewhere.
“That was unnaceptable,” Walton continued. “The turnovers were a big part of that, but if you’re not going to compete you’re not going to give yourself a chance.”
Walton’s perception of the Lakers’ lack of effort was communicated loud and clear to the team.
“We came out playing sluggish and slow. We were looking like the older team,” said Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson. “That’s what the message was.”
Those looking for Walton to gesticulate, or yell and scream at his players from the sideline should look elsewhere, however.
“I’ll get on them in private. I don’t like to yell and scream in front of people towards them, because that’s not the way I believe in coaching, but behind closed doors, absolutely,” Walton said. “As a group — for the most part — normally respond and pick it up and I thought they did tonight... They do a good job normally of responding to getting put on the spot.”
Walton’s approach has seen results this season, albeit small ones.
The Lakers (19-41) have already won more games than last season, and the players appear to have bought into his approach and respond positively to his criticism. Players often unanimously parrot back the same things Walton outlines as the team’s issues during postgame media availability rather than disagreeing with his assessments, even when their effort is called out.
Walton also used to be a player, and thus probably understands that it sucks for grown men to get yelled at in public by another grown man. For now, his approach appears to be the right one for the Lakers.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.