ANAHEIM — Before the Los Angeles Lakers took on the LA Clippers on Saturday night, Lakers head coach Luke Walton expressed hope that with LeBron James sitting out to rest, his team could show some effectiveness without the star their offense orbits around.
“We have to be able to play when he’s not on the floor,” Walton said. “We have to be confident and comfortable playing with each other, so tonight’s a good opportunity for some groups to get bigger minutes.”
After a 103-87 loss to their normal Staples Center co-tenants at the theoretically neutral but in actuality Lakers-centric Honda Center, it’s clear that the overhauled Lakers still have a ways to go to before they can coalesce and reach their full potential.
Some of their individual pieces had success on the evening. Second-year forward Kyle Kuzma started in James’ absence and poured in a team high 15 points on 6-13 shooting, while backup center Ivica Zubac had his best outing of the preseason after recovering from an illness he was dealing with to start training camp, putting up 8 points while grabbing 6 rebounds and blocking a shot during his 13 minutes of playing time.
“Everybody wants to show that we can be a good team even when LeBron is not playing, that we can compete with everybody,” Zubac told Silver Screen and Roll.
The Lakers didn’t show that against the Clippers, failing to put together a cohesive enough effort on the defensive end to stop the Clippers from getting to the free-throw line 29 times, where they shot 79.3 percent. The Lakers also failed to make their own freebies, knocking down just 63.6 percent of their own 22 attempts from the free-throw line, in addition to clanking 15 of their 18 3-pointers to shoot just 16.7 percent from behind the arc.
And after following up a 31-point game earlier in the week with a 10 point effort in which he shot just 3-10 from the field, Brandon Ingram thinks the whole team needs to get better at everything, whether James is in the lineup or not.
“We just have to be more active on the defensive end and offensive end. Of course he takes away scoring and passing, so somebody has to fill in that role, and I think with the guys we have in the room ... It’s not just one player, I think everybody can do that on the basketball floor,” Ingram said.
Walton is hoping that the three days before the Lakers take on the Golden State Warriors in Las Vegas on Wednesday will allow James and point guard Lonzo Ball to return to the lineup, but he also knows the team still has problems that they collectively need to fix, stars or no.
But as veteran forward Michael Beasley pointed out following the game, while there is value to be gained from the Lakers starting to build chemistry in the preseason, they have a lot of time to figure things out.
“Every game matters, but at the end of the day it’s preseason,” Beasley said.