It’s hard to believe this is the same Los Angeles Lakers squad that was getting blown out on a nightly basis leading up to the All-Star break, but it is. You can even argue they’re slightly worse from a talent standpoint with key players like Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram sidelined with injuries and rotation guys like Corey Brewer leaving the team.
However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Lakers (28-34) have won five straight since returning from the All-Star break, including their last four on the road, and are just six games away from being a .500 basketball club in March. How exactly did they get here?
“We had to regroup,” Lonzo Ball told reporters after the Lakers’ win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. “We have no choice but to win right now, to be honest. We’re just trying to pull out every game that we can, stay together and keep moving forward.”
To his credit, Ball wasn’t part of the group that lost three straight games before the All-Star break, as he was nursing an MCL sprain. In fact, the Lakers are 19-21 in games Ball has suited up for and are 5-0 since his return.
It’s clear Ball has played a significant role in the Lakers’ hot streak, but Julius Randle believes the All-Star break itself was crucial to the team getting back on track.
“I think mentally we were just a little fried and fatigued,” Randle said. “Our effort was there, we just mentally were making a lot of mistakes, weren’t communicating and it hurt us. I think we were ready for the break, guys were tired. But we came back refreshed, we knew what we had to do to get back to who we are on the defensive end because that’s how we win games and we’re hitting shots now too.”
Randle has easily been the Lakers’ most impressive player since returning from the break, averaging a team-high 19.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1 steal per contest over the last five games. The Lakers are 17-12 since inserting him in the starting lineup.
With just 20 games left in the season, playoffs might not be in the cards for the Lakers this season, but perhaps more important than a postseason appearance this year is the evident growth from this young team over the past few months, which Luke Walton attributes to a newfound camaraderie in the locker room.
“There’s always going to be ups and downs in this league,” Walton said. “That was definitely a low point of the season and right now is definitely a high point. Obviously it’s unfortunate that we don’t have Josh Hart and B.I., but as far as the way guys are playing, the chemistry they have ... the things we’ve been putting value on all season long, you can start to see those things come out while they’re competing and it’s a lot of fun, this part of it, but we’ve got to stay locked in and focused on what we’re trying to do.”
The Lakers will play four of their next five games at home after spending the last eight days on the road. They’ll look to build on their home winning streak, which currently sits at nine.
All quotes were transcribed via postgame interviews on Spectrum SportsNet.