There are no moral victories for a Lakers team that was expected to contend heading into the year, but their loss to the Clippers on Friday night was also hardly a disaster by recent standards. The Lakers may have ultimately fallen 119-115 to drop to 12-12 on the season, and certainly won’t be excited about this result, but a close game against a fellow playoff contender represents a step in the right direction for this team.
It’s a sad commentary about how bad the team has been that the bar is “hey, at least you tried,” but hey, seriously, at least they tried.
L.A. was actually trailing 51-40 with just a minute and a half remaining in the second quarter, but ended the half on a 10-2 run to only trail 53-50 at the break thanks to some instant sniping off the bench from Wayne Ellington, who scored all six of his points in that stretch.
The second half saw the Lakers struggle out of the gate and fall behind by double digits in the third quarter, but an explosion from Malik Monk — more on that in a bit — helped the team generate enough offense to rally their way back into the game to make things interesting. But Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris and the rest of the Clippers had an answer every time the Lakers got within a basket down the stretch, with Monk and Co. missing multiple shots that could have taken the lead.
Ultimately, the result was the purple and gold’s winning streak ending at two games in a row, and the biggest problem for the Lakers — more than any lineup choices, shot selection, or anything else — on the night was their free-throw shooting. In a four-point loss, the team went 13-21 from the charity stripe (61.9%). There is no excuse for that, and the team has to be better there.
But elsewhere, and as expected, the Lakers debuted a new starting lineup on Friday night, with Dwight Howard replacing DeAndre Jordan (as expected) and Talen Horton-Tucker taking over for Avery Bradley (who was available, but got a DNP-CD with a sprained UCL).
Still, while the starters were new, the results of those two alongside the big three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were... almost as bad as the previous group. Horton-Tucker and Howard might have been the only possible replacement combination for Jordan and Bradley that could have created worse spacing, and the starters were outscored 12-8 to start the first quarter, and 14-9 to start the third quarter. They didn’t get blown out, but the shooting concerns were real, even if the defense — which head coach Frank Vogel was clearly going for with this group — was also decent.
It might be worth changing this unit up again just because of how uncomfortable it looked offensively — especially for Horton-Tucker, who missed all four 3-pointers he took — but it wasn’t the complete tire fire some fans on social media feared it might be. Just, like, a medium-sized tire fire. Which, again, for this team’s starting groups this season, is kind of progress!
The Lakers' new starters put up a net rating of -30.5 in 11 minutes last night (-7 in plus-minus).— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 4, 2021
Obviously that's a really small sample size, but the early results obviously weren't great. Curious to see if the team goes with it again on Tuesday, or decides to try another one.
That noted, the Lakers looked much better in their other groups, with the LeBron-at-center combinations giving him much more room to get to the basket, while the Davis-at-center groups did the same for Westbrook. The defense wasn’t quite as good with those units, but after the Lakers went down by as much as 12 in the third quarter, those lineups helped give L.A. some pop to get back into things in the fourth frame.
And with Monk exploding for 20 second-half points (and often looking like the best player on the floor) after scoring 0 in the first half, it’s fair to wonder if his superior shooting should give him a chance with the starting unit moving forward. But that’s a question for another day, and after this loss, the Lakers will now get three days off before hosting the Celtics on Tuesday to think about it.