For the second time this month, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to a team that has yet to crack double figures in the win column. At the center of their problems was, one again, their effort coming out of the locker room.
It took just 10 minutes for the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers to get out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter of their matchup with the Lakers on Sunday. Those early game deficits have doomed the Lakers in seemingly all their defeats this season, but they’ve been magnified in LeBron James’ absence.
It’s for that reason head coach Luke Walton is strongly considering making a few tweaks to the starting lineup.
“We might have to do something to the starting lineup right now,” Walton said following the Lakers’ loss on Sunday. “Every game it feels like we’re giving up 30 points in the first quarter, so we’ll take a closer look at that. I really thought we’d come out with a little better energy.
“By the end of the games we’re doing a really nice job of stabilizing our defense and getting the stops we need, but we can’t just keep giving up 30 points to start the games. We’ll take a look at that and possibly make a change for Tuesday.”
And what could some of those changes look like? I’m glad you asked.
The most obvious alteration Walton could — and likely will — make would be to take Josh Hart out of the starting lineup in favor of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has been one of the Lakers’ most effective players as of late.
Over the last 10 games, Caldwell-Pope has averaged 13.1 points on 42.1 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from behind the arc. Those stats may not sound world-beating, but for comparison, Hart is averaging just 10.4 points on 36.2 percent shooting from the field and 25.5 percent from behind the 3-point line.
And arguably the biggest thing Caldwell-Pope has going for him is the fact that he can make his free throws at a respectable rate. Through 44 games this season, KCP is making 88.5 percent of his free-throw attempts, which is second to only Ivica Zubac, who has attempted nearly 60 less free throws less than Caldwell-Pope.
Hart does all of the little things well and on most nights he’s a major part of the heart and soul of this Lakers team, but his play hasn’t shown that on a consistent basis recently. Caldwell-Pope has, and he’s earned the starting nod.
One could also make the argument that Michael Beasley has earned a spot in the first unit, but that would likely involve moving Kyle Kuzma out of the starting lineup. As hot and cold as Kuzma’s been since returning from injury last week, he hasn’t done anything to warrant being pulled from the starting five.
Regardless of what changes Walton makes to his starting lineup, assuming there will be any, Brandon Ingram said the Lakers have to get back to focusing on defense, rebounding and other little things.
“It always starts with us. No matter the lineup change, no matter what, it always starts with us,” Ingram said.
We’ll know more about the new starting lineup closer to tip-off on Tuesday. If the Lakers can’t figure things out by then, they could be in for a long January.