Even prior to Saturday’s game, head coach Frank Vogel expected the Lakers to have a refreshed approach against the Warriors. With the trade deadline looming over the team like an ominous cloud for the last week or more, Saturday was the first time the team would take to the court since having it come and go without the team making any moves.
“I think the story of this team is still to be told,” Vogel said pregame, “and I sense that there is a fresh energy with the trade deadline passing.”
Vogel’s premonition was correct as the Lakers came out looking more free and comfortable than they had in any of their preceding two losses. The end result was still defeat on Saturday, but it was by just two points on the road against one of the Western Conference elites.
Moral victories don’t do the Lakers any good at this stage in the season, but for a team that has had so little going in its favor of late, Saturday did feel like a step forward, and at least some of that is the anxiety that comes with the trade deadline passing.
”When you — and I’ve never really been in it, except for in New Orleans when I asked for it, but we had it a little bit last year as well — anytime your name is mentioned in trades as a player, it can weigh on you,” Davis said. “Possibly moving to another city, you start thinking ‘my team doesn’t want me,’ and things like that. And when that time has passed, this is who we have. 15 guys in that locker room. It kind of takes the weight off everyone’s shoulders, like ‘OK, this is what we got, let’s go.’ And we kind of did that all year, but we don’t talk about it, so you don’t know what guys are actually going through and what’s on their mind throughout that process.
“But that’s just my personal opinion, and I think when that time had passed, and we had practice and we realized ‘this is our team, nothing is going to happen, let’s do it.’ And guys had a little more swag today, a little more confidence, a little more energy. Played more with purpose. And if we continue to play like this for the rest of the season, then I think we’ll put ourselves in a good position to do something.”
A look at the box score and, specifically, some of the players most mentioned most in trade rumors over the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Russell Westbrook had one of his best games both in terms of statistics and impact in some time, leading to him closing the game without any drama this time around.
Similarly, Talen Horton-Tucker poured in 17 points on 3/5 shooting from the arc with seven rebounds as well. Add in reliable performances from Malik Monk and Austin Reaves and, in reality, it was the Lakers stars that let them down.
LeBron James finished just 9/27 from the field and 1/10 in the fourth quarter while Davis looked far more pedestrian than he has in recent weeks, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds against a Warriors side content with going small all night long.
It ended in a lost opportunity for the Lakers to pick up a big win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference this season. That the performance came after the trade deadline passed was likely not a coincidence, even if it wasn’t something the team discussed.
“You don’t need to come together and talk about it,” James said. “You just know... It affects people in different ways, the deadline, and it’s human nature if you’re hearing your name talked about in trades, it’s human nature to think about it and then either worry about it or have it grasp your mind from time to time. So there was no need to talk about it. We had a great practice (Friday) and the result was in the way we played today.”
The problem for the Lakers this season has been their inability to build off good performances at basically any point this season. Too often, games like Saturday serve as one-off showings before the team reverts more to its inconsistent, frustrating version. Nothing has indicated there will be any type of real turning point this season, Saturday included.
if the Lakers are going to save their season, a game and performance like Saturday could be the type of game that a campaign turns around on. But there’s no chance this team has earned any benefit of the doubt and they will need to actually string together the games before anyone starts believing again.