The ballyhooed Los Angeles Lakers young core was touted as one of the reasons LeBron James decided to sign with the team, but the group has struggled in the five games he and Rajon Rondo have missed thus far due to their respective injuries.
Their absences were exacerbated in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder and all of Sunday’s game with the New York Knicks because Kyle Kuzma was sidelined by a lower back contusion. The bulk of responsibilities to fill the void has fallen on Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
With both being 21 years old and still in the early stages of their career, Ball and Ingram have been inconsistent in the expanded roles. The Lakers are 1-4 in the five games with James, Kuzma and/or Rondo have missed.
Their loss to the Knicks was arguably the worst of the season. New York entered with just nine wins on the season and mired in an eight-game losing streak. The Lakers got off to a slow start and were done in by familiar struggles on offense, at the free throw line and with turnovers.
“We’re young guys who are in these kinds of positions for the first time,” Josh Hart said of the turbulent stretch the Lakers are enduring. “Throughout the year we’ve had ‘Bron and Rondo.
“Last year, we had J.C. for most of the time and I.T. So we’re in new roles, especially shorthanded. We’ve got to learn how to handle adversity and learn how to execute down the stretch.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton chided the team for breaking from a team-centric approach that in turn leads to stagnant offense in the fourth quarter. Hart didn’t rule out the possibility.
“We try to play within ourselves as much as possible and we try to do what can help the team,” he added.
With James not due to be re-evaluated until Friday, the Lakers are looking at a minimum of three and likely four more games without him.
“Execute, play well defensively. Those are the biggest things,” answered Hart when asked how the team could right the ship in the meantime.
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