The message coming out of the Lakers locker room was different following Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls, their third in a row and fourth in the five games since the In-Season Tournament.
For much of the season, the convenient excuse of injuries have been there for the Lakers, and while they haven’t blamed their shortcomings on their injuries, there was always a sense of “when we get healthy...” as a vibe from the team.
On Wednesday, they were healthy. Gabe Vincent’s return meant the Lakers had their full rotation for the first time this season. So, when they were handled by a Bulls side that, while surging over the last 10 games, is a side well under .500 on the year, the message and tone postgame changed.
“There’s no break coming,” Anthony Davis said. “No help coming. There’s no calvary. We got to do it within this locker room. We’ve got everyone back. We just have to find a way to get in the win column. Obviously, when you lose a couple – especially in a row – it starts to linger. Everybody wants to win and we just got to get that one, get the spirits back up and just go from there.”
Having their rotation available wasn’t going to be as simple as a switch flipping. The Lakers weren’t going to have everything figured out once Vincent returned. For example, while the team has everyone available, they aren’t fully healthy.
Vincent was on a minutes restriction in the neighborhood of 17 minutes on Wednesday, an expected limit given the nearly two months missed. Similarly, the recently-returned Jarred Vanderbilt hasn’t played more than 16:49 since his return and admitted that he’s still experiencing pain in his heel.
The players that have been available are experiencing the effects of a brutal travel schedule in December and having to fill the gaps left by those who have been out with injuries. So, while the Lakers may be whole, they are not 100%.
“It’s a combination of everything,” LeBron James said. “I mean, it’s the emotional fatigue, it’s the physical fatigue, it’s the grind of the season fatigue. And then when you’re not winning, obviously that’s the frustration fatigue. So it’s a little combination of everything.”
There isn’t much of a reprieve coming for the Lakers either. On Thursday, they play the Timberwolves with both teams on the second night of a back-to-back. They then travel to OKC on Saturday before a Christmas Day game against Boston. All three of those opponents are a top-two seed in their conference.
“Anytime you have guys in and out of the lineup, guys that have been out of the lineup for a month now a little bit over and you put ‘em back in the lineup, it’s hard to just make things click right away,” Austin Reaves said. “You don’t have, in the NBA, you don’t have... you don’t really have time to practice and play and practice because you play so many games. So it’s kind of hard to figure it out then. And then in-game, you’re trying to figure it out on the fly.
“But we’ll watch film. We’ll figure out what we can do in those units to be more successful, but it’s going to take a little time and we got to figure out how to do that at the same time but win games.
The league offers no rest for the weary in these situations. The Lakers are going to have to figure this out amidst their schedule and while dancing across the country. It’s an unforgiving situation that every team would have to go through, meaning no one should or will feel sorry for them.
The Lakers asking for time while losing games with seemingly decreasing effort level in the recent defeats isn’t going to land well, nor should it. There is a baseline expectation of any NBA team, Lakers included, in terms of effort and intensity and they aren’t meeting that.
You can blame schedules, you can blame illness, you can blame availability. Each might have a degree of validity to it, but that doesn’t make them easier to swallow.
The Lakers are in as challenging of a stretch of games as they’ll find this season. In many ways, it’ll determine the trajectory of the remainder of the season in how the team handles this current run and what shape they are in when they come out of it.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.