Wednesday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets started in a familiar way for the Los Angeles Lakers: shots weren’t falling, defense wasn’t being played and, as a result, the opposition got out to a big lead. It’s been the same story almost all season.
At one point in the game, Denver led by as much as 23 points, and that was with the starters out on the floor. Suddenly, a historic night for James was just another signature blowout loss for the Lakers.
With the game seemingly too far out of reach, head coach Luke Walton gave a few guys at the end of the bench some run, including rookie Moe Wagner and G League call ups Jonathan Willams and Alex Caruso.
Wagner, Williams and Caruso have spent the majority of their season in the G League with the South Bay Lakers, where they were able to grow as players and develop a chemistry with each other. That chemistry was on full display in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game, as they shrank Denver’s big lead to just two points. Had Josh Hart been at full health, they would have tied the game.
Ultimately, that group couldn’t get the Lakers over the hump, but the fact that they made a push in the fourth quarter earned them praise from their teammates. Following the game, James said that while he was disappointed not to get the win on his big night, he was proud of the way the second unit competed.
“At the end of the day we’re still struggling, and I hate that for our fans, I hate that for our franchise, I hate that for myself. I give a lot of credit to Alex, and Moe, and J3. Them coming in and they haven’t played all year, and they gave us an opportunity to win that game. It was special to see those guys play the way they played and showcase their talent, especially on national television,” James said
Hart, who was a part of the group that made a run in the fourth quarter, said that there was nothing special to the way they played, they just wanted to play the right way.
”We just played hard. Unselfish. Didn’t care who scored. We were just focused on getting stops and just getting out and just having fun,” Hart said.
That mentality and style of play is what Walton has been looking for from his team during this disappointing stretch of games. They showed that urgency that everyone’s talked so much about, but have yet to show.
“We’re looking for guys that are going to play the way we need to play. I understand where we’re at with the injuries, but there’s a certain way to play this game and the respect you show for the game, and we found it in the second half with a couple different groups consisting of guys — J3, and AC, and Moe, and Josh Hart was out there with that group, Rondo and LeBron coming in and out — that’s how we need to play. It’s more fun for the crowd that way, it’s the way the game is meant to be played and it gives us our best chance of winning,” Walton said.
Hart believes the Lakers need to play with that same sense of urgency and intensity every game if they want to close out the season with a few wins.
“I think we need to just make sure we win every single possession. There was plays even after my missed lob, I sat there and sulked like a baby, and then they came down and I put Moe in a bad position and then they got a three and that was a five-point swing. So we’ve got to focus on even when adversity strikes, when we have a bad play here or a bad play there that we get back and focus on winning that next possession. I think if we do that for a full 48 minutes, we can turn these into W’s,” Hart said.
The Lakers will have an opportunity to bounce back on Saturday against the Boston Celtics, who they’ve already beaten once this season. Expect Walton to reward the guys that played hard on Wednesday, especially if the injury report is as long as it currently is.