Los Angeles — With all the drama swirling around the Los Angeles Lakers over the last week after a leaked meeting in which president of basketball operations Magic Johnson reportedly took head coach Luke Walton to task for the team’s lack of offensive identity, a winning streak would have been exactly the shot in the arm the Lakers needed to weather the proverbial storm.
Johnson said Walton was safe for this year barring something “drastic,” and while the Lakers’ listless 121-107 loss to the Toronto Raptors probably doesn’t qualify, it was bad enough to at least make one wonder.
The team followed up their impressive road win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night with a disinterested showing against the Raptors on Sunday. The defeat was far less close than the final score indicated, and made all the more dispiriting by the Lakers getting trampled right from the jump.
The Lakers trailed 42-17 after the first quarter, the biggest first-quarter deficit the team has ever faced in their 71-year franchise history.
Lakers forward LeBron James is hoping to add some memorable chapters to that history, but Sunday night he was powerless to stop a Raptors team that — even while missing All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard with a sore foot — was less dinosaur and more the comet that drove them to extinction.
“They are the best team in the Eastern Conference and they came out and hit us in the mouth. It’s really, really hard to make a game out of that when you are trying to spend so much energy trying to get back into it,” James said.
The Lakers made a few runs, most notably a 13-3 one in the fourth quarter keyed by back-to-back 3-pointers from Lonzo Ball that got the Lakers within 10 points with 2:14 remaining. It was still too little, too late after the Lakers played like a team that thought the game didn’t start until the second quarter for the first 12 minutes of the night.
“It felt like that in the first quarter and they jumped all over us,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “I was proud of our guys for continuing to fight, not that it matters, but you know they competed throughout the whole game. We outscored them in the second, third and the fourth, but that deficit we built in the first was just too much to overcome.”
Raptors center Serge Ibaka was the beneficiary of a lot of the Lakers’ miscues, scoring a career-high 34 points by making his first 14 shots and finishing 15-16 from the field, although he was more excited that his team got the result they wanted.
“To me, the most important thing is our team. We got a W and I’m happier about that than just scoring a lot of points,” Ibaka said.
The loss dropped the Lakers to 4-6, a below .500 record that leaves them 12th in the Western Conference right now. In order to turn things around, Walton and multiple players said the team would have to clean up the defensive communication issues that allowed Ibaka to erupt and left the 2018-19 Lakers making some history they would have rather avoided.
“Team defense. That’s the biggest thing. When somebody drives, make sure somebody’s there to help you out.And communication. Those are the two biggest things we need to dial in on,” said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma.
In a small sign of hope for the team’s communication, Lakers guard Josh Hart echoed the same message.
”Just being more vocal. I think that’s the biggest thing. Talk earlier, talk often,” Hart said. “That’s something that obviously as we play with each other more and more we’ll get more comfortable doing, and I think we’ve just got to make sure we hold each other accountable.”
Agreeing on what to work on is certainly a start.