After losing seven of their last ten games, and having to combat nagging trade rumors like they were starving flies circling a half-rotten apple core, the Lakers might have finally gotten the exact remedy they needed to heal their oozing wounds — some time off.
The All-Star break could not have come at a better time for the reeling squad, as nearly every player, and their grandmothers, have dealt with some form of physical ailment.
While this is generally the case for most professional basketball players come the latter portion of February, the Lakers in particular have been especially susceptible when it comes to getting hurt, as every player who is currently averaging at least 25 minutes per contest has missed at least three games each this season (LeBron James and Rajon Rondo alone have missed a combined 52).
The normal physical turmoil that comes with an NBA season has also been compounded by off-the-court drama for Los Angeles, a brutal combination that has left the players, and coaching staff, in need of recovery.
“I think that this time of year it gets tough,” Luke Walton told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “Guys are tired. When you have one of those seasons where you go through a lot of adversity, and guys need to step up and play different roles and whatnot — and the emotional drain of all that — you get to the All-Star break and guys are tired.”
The Lakers have indeed gone through significant adversity this season. From once again attempting to build on-the-fly chemistry within a largely new roster to incorporating James and the aforementioned mudslide of injuries, it’s understandable why the team skidded towards the break.
Unfortunately, their performance on the floor has mirrored this. Specifically, on the defensive end, something Walton thinks there is a simple explanation for.
“(They’re) fatigued mentally, physically. We had some slippage in our foundation, our fundamentals of how we play defense, and I think all of it caught up to us,” Walton said. “So it was good that the break came when it did, and now we’ve got to be much sharper for these last 25 (games).”
Walton’s assessment of the team’s “slippage” on defense — while true — could be deemed an understatement in terms of how drastically the Lakers have really dropped off.
It was only a little over a month ago, January 14th, that the Lakers were in possession of the sixth-best defensive rating of the league (allowing 106.5 points per 100 possessions). Since then, Los Angeles is 28th in terms of defense, as they have allowed a nauseating 118.3 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Only the Atlanta Hawks (who beat the Lakers right before the All-Star break) and the Phoenix Suns have had worst defenses in that time span.
Contextually, the Lakers have had to face stiffer competition within the last few weeks, and the lack of any consistency on the roster due to trades and injuries has definitely played a role in the team’s lapses on defense.
Josh Hart, one of the team’s most relied upon defenders and energizers, also lamented the role injuries have had on the defense and the team as a whole this season, but reiterated that the overall effort simply needs to be better once basketball resumes Thursday.
“Injuries definitely didn’t help. But we definitely slipped a little bit in our values, and when that happens we’ve got to regroup and rededicate ourselves to those things,” Hart told reporters. “I think the All-Star break was amazing for us to kind of just get away.
“Just mentally get away and rebuild, and now come in fresh,” Hart continued. “I think we’re ready to make a push. Physically guys are getting back. Mentally they’re good. So we’re ready to make a push.”
Hart himself has dealt with his own physical limitations of late, but has been upgraded to “probable” for the team’s nationally televised bout against the Houston Rockets on Thursday night. A good sign, and start, if the Lakers are going to make a serious “push” for the playoffs.
But despite what sounds like a team-wide determination to make one last-ditch attempt at salvaging the season, there are still variables in play that will make their destination an uphill climb.
The schedule, as emphasized by their first game back, definitely will not be easy. The team will also still likely be without their best perimeter defender in Lonzo Ball for an undisclosed amount of time.
Yet, if the time off was exactly the resurgence and revitalization period James and the rest of the team needed, there still lies a chance that this group can prove a lot of people wrong. A task many of these players, and their coaches, seem excited to embrace.