The Los Angeles Lakers were in a close game against their cross-hall rivals, the LA Clippers, until they weren’t. Lakers head coach Luke Walton thought his team — that was missing LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, two huge pieces of what they do — “splintered” down the stretch while allowing a game-ending 22-0 run to the Clippers, which Lonzo Ball didn’t think was acceptable.
“We have to stay together, no matter if it’s going good or going bad,” Ball said. “Teams are going to go on runs, it happens, but a 22-0 run should never happen.”
In order to stop runs like that from happening, it’s not just staying together that the Lakers have to do. They have to come together with purpose, so the whole is greater than the sum of their parts while their depth is depleted. To do so, Tyson Chandler told his young teammates that what they have to focus on is simple, even if it’s not easy.
“When you have [Rajon] Rondo and Bron, they handle all the intangibles. They take care of every little mistake a team may make, and they make so many plays,” Chandler said. “When you’re without that, you really have to concentrate on the little things in the game plan.”
A quick glance at the box score shows that “the little things” that Chandler is referencing, the little things that win basketball games, were once again a struggle for the Lakers against their Staples Center co-tenants. The Lakers actually took one more free throw than the Clippers (35-34), but shot 68.6 percent from the line compared to LAC’s 94.1 percent. The Lakers also turned the ball over 17 times to the Clippers’ 12 giveaways.
Those are areas that James and Rondo sometimes help, but the issue for the Lakers is more-so that those two veterans give the Lakers a base level of talent that offers them a safety net while they walk the tightrope of shooting terribly from the free-throw line every night. That net has been ripped away like James and Rondo’s muscles, and the Lakers have to focus on staying balanced now.
The other thing James and Rondo give the Lakers is the luxury of depth, and the lack of extra bodies was also something the team felt like was an issue on the second night of a back-to-back.
“A lot of us ran out of gas right there. You can kind of just tell,” said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. “Not getting back on defense, just little mental mistakes that we had. When we’re tired physically, the mental aspect has to be there and tonight it wasn’t.
“We have to know if we’re not going to have legs, we have to make a certain effort on the defensive end much more. Tonight, we just didn’t match their energy level.”
Still, the Lakers know they can’t make excuses. The brutal Western Conference standings don’t care if you missed a few of your best players. You don’t get to raise a banner that says “played okay despite tough injury circumstances” at the end of the year. The Lakers want to be a team that matters, so even without James and Rondo, they know they have to be better.
“LeBron and Rondo are obviously are both our leaders,” Ball said. “They were trying to talk to us in the best way that they could, but it’s not the same as them being out there. We just have to step up and accept the roles we’ve come into right now.”
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