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Lakers battling schedule, injuries in challenging stretch of season

The Lakers loss to the Knicks on Monday was the latest challenge in a number of them piling up for the Lakers in December.

Lakers vs Knicks Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

There are few things that fans want to hear less after a loss than excuses, no matter how valid they may be. When the Lakers put forth a lackluster effort as they did on Monday against the Knicks that led to a defeat, talks of fatigue, injuries or the travel schedule are lost on fans.

To an extent, that is understandable. For a Lakers team that looked as if it had turned the corner with the In-Season Tournament in Las Vegas, following it up with three losses in their four games since has been disappointing.

The strength of schedule might be middle of the road this season, but the travel, injuries and mounting minutes the players have played because of a lack of players available have added up.

“We definitely had a tough schedule to start the year,” Jarred Vanderbilt said after Monday’s loss. “From traveling, injuries and guys playing extended minutes and I think we’ve had the most back-to-backs so far. I think that’s definitely played a part but it’s still no excuses. Everybody plays the same amount of games.”

The circumstances and context surrounding the team currently don’t excuse the losses. But it does add needed context to them.

The talk of some sort of championship hangover has existed and a quick glance at the Pacers run of results suggests there may be something to the fact that those two teams went for broke to try to win a title and are seeing some of the consequences of that. There could be something to it, but that feels more like a convenient excuse based on results than anything else.

The fact is that the Lakers are in the toughest part of their schedule this season. The opponents may not be the toughest, but the travel and the back-to-backs are piling up for this team, as well as the sheer number of games.

Positive Residual has some wonderful tools to take a deeper look at the schedule that offers more insight into the matter. To start, the Lakers are tied with the Nuggets and Bulls for the most regular season games, a figure that includes the In-Season Tournament final. And because of that extra game played, the Lakers are going to sit near the top of the list, along with the Pacers, for the rest of the season.

The luck of the draw hasn’t been in the Lakers’ favor this season when it comes to rest. The team has had the rest advantage in just two games this season — second-fewest in the league — and has been at a disadvantage five times, tied for the most. And that’s not a number that will even out for the team this year, as is the case with most of these other figures.

Their five back-to-backs are tied for the second most in the league and after they play the Bulls and Wolves this week, they’ll be tied for the most. Perhaps most damning, though, has been the miles traveled.

Through Sunday’s game, they sit at fourth-most in the league. And with another three-game road trip awaiting them, they’ll have the second-most miles traveled in the league by week’s end.

What’s not factored into any of those numbers is that the team is also battling illness, too. The NBA isn’t excluded from flu season and the Lakers have seen D’Angelo Russell miss Friday’s game, head coach Darvin Ham miss Sunday’s practice and Christian Wood nearly miss Monday’s game all due to it.

You add all that up and you get a team that looks to be running on something near empty on Monday.

“We got to get some rest, get healthy,” LeBron James said. “Try to finish out December the right way. Obviously (this month) has been killer for us with the travel and games and things of that nature. But no rest for the weary. Have to mentally stay locked in.”

The good news is, as mentioned before, January shapes up to be a far, far, far easier month for them, but they have to get there first. A Christmas Day game against the Celtics should serve as natural incentive to ramp up the intensity, which the Lakers sure look like they need.

December has been a challenging and rewarding month for the Lakers. They captured a trophy, but that hasn’t negated the slog of an NBA season and schedule. If anything, it’s added to it in some ways.

How they come out the other side of it remains to be seen, but it’s certainly been a month that appears to be getting the better of the team right now.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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