The Lakers are an attraction. Few teams have the star power the Lakers possess this season and fewer teams have the success both historically and in recent seasons to go with it.
Because of that, every game the Lakers play this season will have a little extra to it. For opposing teams, it’ll be a chance to prove themselves among the elites, to silence the opposing fans who have invaded their building. Home or road, every team has the matchup circled.
Or, like the Lakers saw on Wednesday, early in the season, a win over the Lakers could jumpstart an opponent’s campaign. The winless Thunder treated their matchup as such, and the result was a memorable comeback win over the Lakers for their first victory of the year.
None of this is new to head coach Frank Vogel, who has spoken previously about the target the Lakers will have on their backs this season. But instead of using that as an excuse, Vogel sees it as a positive in the long run for his squad, as he said after Wednesday’s loss.
“It’s not fun in the moment when you lose a game like that,” Vogel said. “But I think, at the end of the day, if we’re pushed every night like this, it’s going to sharpen us. It’ll be good for us in the long run. But you have to play through that and find a way to win.”
The on-court result of the Lakers being the big game of the season could be seen in various ways on Wednesday. Carmelo Anthony noted postgame that the Thunder never stopped playing hard regardless of their big deficit.
“There were moments where, no matter what we did, we tried to sustain runs and they just kept going,” Anthony said. “They didn’t stop playing. They played hard and made shots. They just played with such a confidence in that second half.”
It also resulted in unseasonably strong performances from Thunder players. There is no better example than Darius Bazley’s performance from the 3-point line. A career 30.4% shooter from behind arc, Bazley entered the contest shooting 1-of-16 from the 3-point line this year before shooting 4-8 from beyond the arc on Wednesday.
As a team, the Thunder entered the game shooting 28.7% from the 3-point line before shooting 40.5% on Wednesday.
“Like we’ve said all year, guys are going to play their best (against us),” Anthony Davis said. “Bazley and some other guys who haven’t made shots all year from three, I think Bazley was 4-8, and a bunch of guys made shots. But it’s a game we’re definitely supposed to win. Not supposed to lose at all. But we’ll learn from it and move forward.”
The Lakers, though, weren’t looking to use that as an excuse on Wednesday. While it’s at least a partial explanation for the result, Davis was adamant that the loss was an unacceptable one, regardless if the Lakers are still early in the process of building chemistry and familiarity.
“This ain’t no adjustment period at all,” Davis said. “Not this game. That’s just straight on us. No. Other games, it’s possible. But this isn’t an adjustment game where I feel like it’s ‘Oh, we’re still learning each other.’ Not this game.”
Wednesday was simply an example of what the season will be like for the Lakers, especially on the road. The Lakers' success and talent comes with side effects that will lead to nights like those against the Thunder where players have uncharacteristically great games. That target on their backs will almost certainly lead to more frustrating results. But if handled properly, it could also benefit this team in the long run, if they learn the right lessons from it and get sharper as a result.