Los Angeles — The Los Angeles Lakers have deserved to lose their last three games. That they are 2-1 in that stretch is a testament to the talent of LeBron James and other factors, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that the team has been sputtering, with their efforts — or lack thereof — culminating in L.A. pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in a 108-104 loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday afternoon.
“Disappointing loss. We’ve got to get back to valuing the basketball,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “We had 14 turnovers at the half. There was not enough sharpness with the offense. We’ve got to get our passing up again.”
Walton cited the Lakers turning the ball over more despite them passing less recently as a specific issue, a concern that tracking numbers on NBA.com back up. The Lakers already pass the the fourth-least of any team in the NBA (268.8 times per game), but over their last three contests they’ve passed even less (230.5 times per game).
Over that same span, the Lakers have also led the league in turnover percentage, or the amount of their possessions that end in a turnover, coughing up the rock 18.9 percent of the time (The Lakers have turned the ball over on 15.2 percent of their possessions on average this season).
“Some of them, we’re being too unselfish, including myself,” James said. “I’m making some passes where I have a small window. I’m seeing guys when I should probably hold onto it. A lot of them are forced, some of them are attack turnovers.
“We have to do a better job of that,” James continued. “We haven’t taken care of the ball the last two games.”
Nowhere was James’ point emphasized better than when two of their errant passes hit the same fan sitting courtside opposite the team’s bench during the first half against Orlando. Whoever that guy was — and while he likely hopes the team cleans up their turnover issues overall — it seems safe to assume that no one in Staples Center was happier when the Lakers started shooting on the opposite basket in the second half.
These issues would be less concerning as just a one-off, but they haven’t been confined just to losses. On Friday — in a game the Lakers managed to win against the Utah Jazz — the Lakers turned the ball over a season-high 23 times while also distributing a season-low 10 assists.
In the loss to the Magic, the 18 turnovers the Lakers barfed up were their fifth-highest total of the season. In the game before that, they gave the ball away to the Cleveland Cavaliers 15 times, their ninth-highest total of the season and a number that looks even worse when considering the Cavaliers are by far the NBA’s worst defense, giving up 113.9 points per 100 possessions.
The Lakers still would have potentially been able to survive those issues against the Magic if they hadn’t also shot just 64.5 percent from the free-throw line against Orlando. Astonishingly, that is somehow only the seventh-worst the Lakers have shot from the charity stripe this season.
“It’s turnovers, it’s missed free throws. We’re killing ourselves,” Walton said. “This is a couple games in a row now. You lose a close game where you miss 11 free throws. Those are free points, you’ve got to step up and knock those down. You have 18 turnovers, they shoot an extra 14 times.
“It’s tough to overcome when another team gets that many more shot attempts than we do,” Walton continued. “There were some turnovers, there were some selfish plays, there was a lack of energy and a little bit of all those things suck at the core of what we’re trying to do.”
If there is a bright side to the Lakers losing to Orlando, it’s that maybe getting a defeat on the ledger forces the team to focus on these weaknesses instead of letting the ends justify the means, no matter how ugly the means were to watch.
And at the very least, the Lakers thinks the problem is fixable and comes from a good place, which is the first step.
“Our turnovers I think come from trying to make the right plays,” said Lakers guard Lance Stephenson. “There were some parts of the game where we had the right pass but it just didn’t get to where our teammate was at. You just keep making the right plays, staying focused and confident, and we’ll be all right.”