Kyle Kuzma was moved into the starting lineup Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs and played by far the best game of his second season (even if said season is only three-games old). He and the Los Angeles Lakers miraculously forced overtime but wound up losing in hilariously painful fashion.
Still, he saw progress.
“I don’t like to use moral victories but it kind of bodes well,” Kuzma told reporters after the game. “The three teams we have played all played together for quite some time. We are a new team and to be in every single game, it sort of means something.”
Kuzma’s last point cannot be repeated enough. The Portland Trail Blazers brought back basically the same team from last year and when the Lakers played them in Portland, the crowd was even more amped than in any normal home opener because it was the first game after their late owner Paul Allen’s passing.
No one in their right mind predicted the Lakers would win under those circumstances.
The Lakers’ next opponent was a Houston Rockets team months removed from an appearance in the Western Conference finals that returned its big three of Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela.
Maybe as it was the home opener some might’ve thought the Lakers could pull that one out, but I doubt anyone was betting the house on it.
Then, as stated above, the Lakers played the Spurs all the way to overtime, and the Spurs are basically built to punish teams for their own lack of carry-over from season to season seeing as they’ve been running the same system dating back to lord knows when.
Yet, in each one of those games, the Lakers had chances to win.
Nik Stauskas played out of his mind in Portland. The fracas Saturday night cost the Lakers two starters to the Rockets’ one. Last night, the Lakers were playing down those two starters from the tip thanks to their suspensions.
Does this mean that there aren’t concerns with this team? Of course not. The center situation is so bad that a two-way guy was made to look like a perennial All-Star compared to the other options Luke Walton could’ve gone with. The defense hasn’t been able to stop a snail. The Lakers’ halfcourt offense might be the only thing this defense could stop.
Still, anyone crying “woe is me” is completely missing the point.
Had the Lakers been blown out in three straight games to lesser opponents, fine. Then, it would be fair to wonder what might be going on. But that simply hasn’t been the case.
As the season goes on, those wins are going to need to start coming. The hole the Lakers find themselves in right now speaks to why players avoid thinking about moral victories. However, that doesn’t also mean you can’t notice progress as it’s happening.