There have been few consistencies with the Lakers this season, whether it comes to playstyle, performance or even players available on a game-to-game basis. However, one of the few things the Lakers have been reliable for is dramatic losses.
Whether it was a blowout with a kerfuffle against the Suns, either of the inexplicable losses to the Thunder, a complete no-show against the Blazers or, on Friday, a debilitating second half leading to a Timberwolves rout, the Lakers tend to lose rather loudly.
Friday’s loss, though, may have been a breaking point for Anthony Davis.
Less than a week after vowing to learn from their loss to Portland, the Lakers put forth an all-too-similar effort against Minnesota in the second half by being outscored 40-12 in the third quarter and falling behind by as many 33 points in the final two periods.
After the game, Davis was as agitated as he had been this season and challenged the Lakers to be better.
“We have to decide who we want to be,” Davis said. “A championship team? That’s not us right now. We’re not winning a championship the way we’re playing. We have to be better. We got to care more for our wins at home, wins in general. That was embarrassing to be up five at half — obviously this team shoots a lot of threes and they have guys that can score the basketball — but there was no effort in the third quarter. I don’t want to say the first half. The first half, we looked really good. We had some mistakes but our effort was there. Energy in the third quarter wasn’t there for us.”
For a veteran-laden team, the Lakers have been prone to many a flat performance. Perhaps its a matter of said veterans assessing the importance of November regular season games and coming out flat accordingly. Maybe it’s a matter of teams putting a little extra effort in their matchups with the Lakers, who have a target on their back this year.
Whatever the case may be, the Lakers aren’t showing up consistently, a mark of a title contender that Davis clearly thinks the Lakers are not, at least yet. His challenge on Friday was to play Lakers basketball for not just one game, but for a string of them to see what this team is capable of.
“What we can’t do is point the finger,” Davis said. “‘It was you. It was you. It was you.’ We have to stay together. And we stay together but also we got to learn from the film so film tomorrow is going to be big for us to have another heart-to-heart about these types of games. We hate feeling this way. Obviously, we’re going to lose games. Everyone loses games. But doing it the right way; having a team actually beat us, not beating ourselves. Those are the frustrating ones when we beat ourselves.
“Tonight was energy and effort in the third quarter and the second half just like Portland was from the tip. Energy and effort wasn’t there. We hate losing games like that but we have to learn from it and, most importantly, we have to stay together. We’re going to continue to stay together. It’s still fairly early… We still don’t have all our guys back but we have enough guys to win basketball games and we have to continue to do what we do.
“Play Lakers basketball,” Davis added. “And some games we see it, some games we don’t. We see it for a half, the other half we don’t see it. (We see it) for three quarters and not one quarter. We have to put (together) a stretch of games where we’re playing our style of basketball for 48 minutes and live with that result.”
The Lakers experimented with a new lineup on Friday, swapping in Wayne Ellington for DeAndre Jordan and moving Anthony Davis to center to take advantage of a small Timberwolves side. That lineup produced decent results in the first half but was the lineup on the court when things went awry in the third period.
“Nah, it wasn’t the lineup because we started the game with the lineup and we were fine,” Davis said. “We were up big in the first...and then we went to half up five. So it wasn’t the lineup. It was the third-quarter lineup, the same guys, that didn’t come out with a lot of energy and effort. All five of us. Breakdowns defensively, bad shots offensively. Turnovers. All that. It had nothing to do with the lineup. We’ve played small before where I’m at the five with different lineups. I don’t think the lineup was a factor. It was our effort.”
The good news for the Lakers is that the return of LeBron James is on the horizon. Prior to Friday’s game, head coach Frank Vogel revealed James had returned to on-court activities and was considered day-to-day.
And in search of a silver lining, of the aforementioned frustrating losses, only the Phoenix one had James in the lineup in the second game of the season. James won’t solve every problem for the Lakers, but he papers over lots of them.
Still, losses like Friday are becoming too common for a Lakers team with title aspirations. A mixture of Davis’ challenge to the team and James’ return could be enough to break the team out of its malaise, but it’s clear something about their approach needs to change.