The Los Angeles Lakers are back at square one.
After the LA Clippers fell to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, the Lakers are three games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, which is exactly where they were coming back from the All-Star break. The only difference is that they now have just 23 games to make up that deficit, as opposed to 25.
It’s a daunting task, and one that Lakers head coach Luke Walton wants them to take one game at a time, as he told reporters on Spectrum SportsNet after the team’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday:
“We’re all frustrated. We wanted to win this game. We know how important it is for us, but that’s why we try to preach all the time (that) it’s not important to put our goals 23 games from now, because the way you win each and every game is to focus on what we’re doing tonight.”
In order to have a chance in any of their remaining games, though, Walton said that his team needs to start cleaning up their careless mistakes:
“Are we taking care of the ball? Are we focused and locked in at the line when we get there to knock those down? Defensively, are we talking and making our coverages and rotations, and making multiple efforts? (Those are) the things that we did in the second half of that Houston game, and that we did to become a top-ten defensive team for a lot of this season.
“That’s where our focus and energy needs to be. Unfortunately tonight we didn’t get enough of that.”
The Lakers turned the ball over 23 times against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, which tied their season-high. Since Lonzo Ball suffered his injury on Jan. 19, the Lakers are turning the ball over a league-worst 17.2 times per game. Sadly, that isn’t even that much of a drop-off, because on the season they’re ranked 29th in the league in turnovers per game.
Their production on the defensive end has also fallen off of a cliff since Ball’s injury. Over the last 12 games, the Lakers are allowing 116.6 points per 100 possessions, which is the fourth-most in the league in that span. In the games Ball has been healthy this season, the Lakers have posted the seventh-best defensive rating in the league.
Maybe Ball won’t fix all of the Lakers’ problems upon making his return, but he’ll help the big ones. Until then, the rest of the team has to make a concerted effort to play smarter basketball.