The Los Angeles Lakers fell to 3-6 without LeBron James after their 113-95 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday night, but despite that losing record without their star, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma thinks the team has figured out a few ways to scratch and claw their way to wins, even when James is out of the lineup.
On the Spectrum Sportsnet broadcast, Kuzma said he didn’t think that the Lakers’ lackluster result in Utah was indicative of some major, unforeseeable problem beyond injuries:
“We know how to win games. We’re out players, it’s going to happen, but I think for the most part every game we’ve been in except for this one.”
Ball mostly agreed with that point. He thinks the team has found ways to win, they just aren’t putting those strategies together for entire games:
“I think four out of those six losses we beat ourselves. So it’s not like we are not getting the job done. We’ve got to lock in for that fourth quarter and just play with each other the whole game, not get outside of the game plan, listen to the coach and go out there and compete.”
Ball’s memory — as usual — is spot on. The Lakers never gave themselves real chances to win against Utah or the Minnesota Timberwolves, but outside of that their losses have been close, if not always defensible.
The Lakers lost their first game sans-James by one point to the Sacramento Kings on a ridiculous 3-pointer at the buzzer from Bogdan Bogdanovic. Then they hung in with the LA Clippers until a killer third-quarter run on the second night of a back-to-back.
The team then beat the Kings, followed by a loss to a far better Oklahoma City Thunder team that they hung in against, only losing by seven points. Their loss to the awful New York Knicks, even without James, was less forgivable, but the Lakers at least stayed in it without Kuzma, James and Rondo, their top-two scorers and assist-getters. Not many teams could survive that being without such players, and the Lakers were at least competitive, only losing by seven after an awful start. That’s four losses by a combined 26 points, which isn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
But playing a competitive game without their star doesn’t get a team bonus points in the standings. As Josh Hart noted during his postgame availability, whether the Lakers have James or not, they need to start picking up victories at a higher clip.
“Just go out there and play hard,” Hart said when asked what the team had to do to secure some victories without their star.
“We’ve got to find ways to win. Whether we’re making shots (or) missing shots, we’ve got to realize defensively that we can let our defense dictate our offense, not the other way around. That’s the biggest thing that we have to be consistent on. We’ve done that in spurts, but we have to be consistent.”
Now here is where we should note that Hart was not approached with a question that sounded anything like “Lonzo and Kuz just said the team knows how to win without LeBron, what do you think they have to do?” This doesn’t appear to be an attempt to contradict or call out his teammates.
Still, Hart’s answer, given the context of Ball and Kuzma’s earlier ones, was a good reminder that the Lakers saying they know how to scrap their way to victories without James sounds hollow when they aren’t going out and doing it, no matter how close they’ve been.
The Lakers will get their next chance to put their money where their mouth is when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers in the “No, we swear, we remember how to play basketball without LeBron” Bowl on Sunday.
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