So far, the Los Angeles Lakers are not off to an ideal start on their post-All-Star break pursuit of a playoff spot. Yes, they came back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Houston Rockets, but all the momentum they generated from that game netted them consecutive losses against the New Orleans Pelicans (without Anthony Davis) and Memphis Grizzlies (who dealt away Marc Gasol at the trade deadline).
After the game, Luke Walton surprisingly praised his team for the effort they put forth that resulted in one of the most disappointing losses of the season. He also some thoughts about the possible effect the playoff chase might be having on the team, or what might actually be leading to extra pressure for them (via Spectrum SportsNet, emphasis mine):
“There’s definitely some added pressure with the group. I think it more has to do with finding that cohesiveness again after all the injuries and stuff happening, the talks off the court. It’s just finding that cohesiveness tonight, and that’s why I said I was happy with the way our guys played tonight, because I do believe that we took a step in the right direction even though we lost the game tonight.
“[Extra] pressure? it could be. It’s a possibility, yeah.”
Look, I totally understand if all the noise generated by the trade deadline might have gotten to the locker room. Magic Johnson essentially offered up every player not named LeBron at some point or another in those very public negotiations, and only balked at New Orleans’ demands when they asked for a little too much draft compensation — All while James very openly opined for Davis. Those events leaving a bad taste in those who made it past the deadline shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
But if what Walton is saying here is at all true and now a playoff chase is too much for the Lakers to handle, come the hell on. LeBron took some criticism last night when he spoke about distractions (and rightly so when he mentioned the stuff they’ve heard all year), but he’s right as it pertains to this playoff pursuit.
If the Lakers are already allowing the pressure of merely making it to the playoffs get to them, how exactly are they going to fare if they get there? It’s not like you reach the playoffs and all of a sudden the games get easier.
The other thing here is it’s kind of Walton’s job to make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen. He’s tasked with keeping everyone focused and ready to compete. If the Lakers are shaking in their boots at the very thought of trying to make the playoffs because of all the rumors that surrounded the locker room over the last month, that doesn’t exactly speak all that well to the leaders of that locker room.
Walton’s quotes don’t inspire a ton of confidence for a fan base already reeling from two of the more disappointing losses in recent memory. If the Lakers really are at the point where the playoff chase is getting to them, this pursuit was over before it started.