The Lakers spent the preseason preaching patience as they headed into the season. Their message centered around the season being long and the faith that they would get things figured out eventually.
Even the most optimistic and loyal of Laker fans, though, would have had their belief tested by the Lakers opening two games. A second-half collapse in the season opener to Golden State preceded a full-game collapse against the Suns on Friday. Only a too-little, too-late fourth-quarter comeback made the scoreline look respectable as Phoenix won their sixth consecutive game over the Lakers including the playoffs in June and the preseason in early October.
True to their original word, though, the Lakers still aren’t panicking. Following practice on Saturday, Russell Westbrook spoke about his mindset after back-to-back dismal performances.
“I’m OK with adversity, honestly. I never panic throughout a season, especially at the start of the season,” Westbrook said. “The season is too long and nobody is worried right now. Yes, it’s good to get off to a good start and feel good about yourself, but especially me personally, I like to make sure that as the season goes along I’m just constantly getting better, and better and better... And making sure that my team and my teammates are getting better as well, and that we’re all getting comfortable with each other.”
No player has better illustrated the frustrating nature of the Lakers’ open to the season than Westbrook. After one of the worst games in recent years in his career against the Warriors, Westbrook had a small bounceback game against the Suns, finishing an assist shy of a triple-double, even if the majority of those counting stats came in the fourth quarter.
In the same vein, no player better illustrates the need for patience than Westbrook as he attempts to integrate with the core of Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
“We’ll figure it out,” Westbrook said. “And once we do, as you’ve seen for spurts, it’s very beneficial to us and there’s nothing anybody else can do. So for us we just have to make sure we’re constantly communicating on the things that we need to do better as a team, to figure out how we can defend and understand it’s a new defense for a lot of guys, including myself... There were miscues on us and we’ve got to make sure we execute.”
As Westbrook noted, the Lakers have had just enough glimpses of what could be to keep the faith alive. While Friday’s fourth quarter may have largely been garbage time, any time on the court together early in the season for Westbrook, James and Davis is valuable, regardless of the competition or circumstances.
And while much of the discussion has been how Westbrook can adapt his game to fit alongside James and Davis, there will need to be adapting from them to get the best out of Westbrook this season.
“We’re all figuring each other out,” Westbrook said. “Guys are figuring out how to run with me and play a little faster, and I’m figuring out how to do other things like moving off the ball and doing things that I’ve kind of got to figure out. We’re all adjusting to one another and that’s a process. It’s not going to happen in the first week of the season, and we understand that and I’m OK with the struggle of figuring it out and making sure that we’re putting ourselves in a position to do the right things so that ultimately at the end of the year we can be playing our best basketball.”
The good news for the Lakers and their fans is that, after playing a Golden State side that will be a playoff contender and a Suns side that made the Finals last season, the Lakers will play a string of non-contenders that should offer them a chance to get things right.
While the Grizzlies could be a feisty competitor on Sunday, the Lakers will then play the Rockets and Thunder twice and Spurs and Cavs over the next six games with none of those teams expected to even compete for a playoff spot.
While it still won’t be anything close to a do-or-die stretch for the Lakers, it will provide the team to make good on the faith they’ve preached to the fanbase — and to themselves — over the ensuing two weeks.
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