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Lakers raise In-Season Tournament banner but old challenges resurface against the Knicks

The job’s not done for the Lakers as they celebrated their In-Season Tournament title one more time but lost against the Knicks, a sign of the struggles this team has to overcome to win it all in 2024.

New York Knicks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES - The Lakers officially raised the NBA In-Season Tournament (IST) banner in the rafters pregame Monday against the Knicks and the reception was lukewarm.

There were no grandiose speeches, just a sizzle reel played on the jumbotron. Fans cheered a little, but the crowd was much more excited when they realized a dog was sitting courtside than they were about a banner joining the rafters.

The moment the banner was raised, LeBron James walked to the layup line and proceeded with his pregame routine.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, winning the IST and going undefeated in those games didn’t create momentum for the last week of games. Instead, the Lakers have dropped three of their last four, including Monday’s matchup against the Knicks.

An IST hangover was theorized after the victories in Las Vegas, which players and coaches immediately threw cold water on. Tonight, Darvin Ham was a little more receptive to the theory given the team’s recent run of results but still considered any type of setback worth the result of winning the IST.

“I thought it was more positive than negative for sure,” Ham said postgame. “But that said, there is a travel schedule. Us leaving Vegas Sunday, coming back to LA, getting ready for another long trip, taking off Monday…different people within our camp having minor illnesses, the fatigue that’s already setting in at this point in the season. Throw in the travel and the change in the time zones. All that. It just means one thing; nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.

“Everybody goes through it. It’s a marathon of a league.”

As is the case for everyone after a trip to Vegas, it’s back to reality for the Lakers after returning from Sin City. For the purple and gold, that means churning out wins on the road in the dead of winter while shorthanded and failing to hit open three after open three.

Going from games where a title and half a million dollar purse were on the line to regular season games in December can be challenging. But mix in a back-to-back and teams with winning records in the Knicks and Mavericks, and things can quickly go south.

Monday was another reminder of those weaknesses that have become part of this team’s identity. They started the first quarter weak, allowing New York to score 35 points, the most points the Knicks scored in any quarter tonight. They shot 13-41 from three, with starter Taurean Prince being the biggest offender, making only three of his 13 attempts from downtown.

The losses have been frustrating, but the schedule hasn’t been kind to the Lakers.

They went on a three-game road trip to Texas and returned just for Monday before they head back east to play the Bulls, Timberwolves and Thunder, teams that are a combined 48-30. And when they come back home, they have to play on Christmas Day against their arch-rivals and title-contending Boston Celtics on national television.

Ham will contextualize the situation but never relents from the job he, his staff and his team have to get the job done. Monday’s postgame was no different.

“Fill our cups back up, man,” Ham said of how the team will prepare for the next road trip. “We just fill our cups back up. Everybody get rest, try to take care of your bodies. It’s a little bit of a flu season right now with winter setting in. You try to take care of what you can take care of, control what you can control. It’s not rocket science. You have to push through, knowing it’s a process.

“It’s a long-term process and you have to do everything in your power short-term to give yourself the best chance. But it’s still a long-term process, a lot of games left to be played.”

With more games in front of them than behind them, including a softer schedule in January, it’s concerning, but not all is doom and gloom in Los Angeles. They did raise a banner today and, while it was a fun moment, the IST is done. The colorful courts are stored away and the focus shifts to the Larry O’Brien trophy coming back to Southern California.

Despite never doing so, or perhaps because of it, Austin Reaves knows what matters most.

“It’s the first one and it was cool,” Reaves said postgame. “It was cool to be a part of winning that and that whole deal. But now that’s over and we’ve got to focus on the season and try hang another one up at the end of the year.”

The marathon that is the NBA season continues on Wednesday in the Windy City.

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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