Los Angeles — Other than clipped, nearly whispered answers emanating from the mouths of players or the hushed conversations of media members, the loudest sound to pierce the postgame locker room after the Lakers lost to the New York Knicks on Friday was a frustrated-sounding grunt from JaVale McGee.
Beyond that, though, it would have been possible to hear a pin drop in a locker room housing a team that’s as irritated as its been all year after a recent 1-4 stretch in the absence of LeBron James.
But losses in the absence of a superstar happen. They’re not convenient, but they happen. What has left the Lakers so upset is that they keep making the same mistakes.
“We’re losing the same way. That’s the frustrating part about it. We’ve got to learn that when adversity strikes, we can’t fray off into our own world,” said Lakers guard Josh Hart, a normally verbose communications graduate who was reduced to mainly monosyllabic responses after the game. “(We have to) come together and be better than the sum of our parts and win games.”
The Lakers haven’t been able to do so, and Lakers head coach Luke Walton expressed annoyance that the team’s issues are continually the same. He thinks the Lakers are turning the ball over, isolating and fouling too much, all while not getting back on defense.
“The frustrating part about it is that it’s things we talk about,” Walton said. “The ball was moving beautifully when we built our lead. We got to the fourth and we had a couple possessions of nice ball movement, and then once shots didn’t go in, guys started trying to do it on their own. That’s not a recipe for us to win.”
It’s an especially problematic recipe without James, sort of like trying to make french fries without potatoes in that a recipe won’t work when the key ingredient is missing.
In order to combat that, the Lakers need to get out on the break, something they’ve done for the first three quarters of games, and then... not done... in fourth quarters, where their pace drops from third in the league to middle-of-the-pack.
“We’re the best when we get on fast breaks. We don’t do that when we let teams shoot 20 free throws in one quarter,” said Lakers guard Lonzo Ball. “(Our) half-court offense definitely needs improvement, but to combat that we need to get on the break.”
That noted, the chief issue isn’t just one mistake the Lakers have consistently been making. They could survive that. What they can’t overcome is continually making the same errors in conjunction, over and over.
”There were a lot of things that were working that we could have did, a lot of plays that we could have ran, but we just didn’t do it,” McGee said, and the team will have to start soon. The Lakers’ loss to the Knicks dropped them to eighth place (21-18) in the Western Conference, and if they keep sliding, even James’ superlative talents may not be able to save them from missing the postseason.
”Every game is big in the West, especially because we keep losing the same way,” Ball said. “We’ve got to change that.”
But the Lakers have talked about changing these things ad nauseam all season, and with greater frequently since they started losing more without James. At some point, the team will have to put their money where their mouth is.
So far the Lakers haven’t been able to do that, and how morose the postgame locker room was didn’t suggest that a turnaround was imminent. Still, things can change quickly in the NBA, and James won’t be out forever. The Lakers will just have to try harder to tread water until he returns, and actually fixing the stagnant offense and other issues they’re constantly harping on but not actually changing would go a long way towards that.
“We’ve got to step up. Everybody. As a team, we have to step up. There’s no excuse. We’re all professionals. We all know how to play basketball, so we just have to come together and step up,” McGee said.
We’ll see if they can do it soon, and if they can’t, things are only going to get worse from here.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.