After overcoming a slow start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers demonstrated the type of force they can be with a blowout win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas. It left them in fourth place in the Western Conference standings but just 2.5 games back of first.
However, little has gone right since that point. LeBron James and Rajon Rondo were both injured in the victory at Oracle Arena, leading to each missing an extended period. Kyle Kuzma was dogged by back spasms during a portion of that stretch, and Lonzo Ball was lost to a sprained ankle.
While James, Kuzma and Rondo have been back on the court, the Lakers just finished 2-4 on a road trip with an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Hawks that put yet another dent in their playoff hopes.
Following the defeat, Kuzma pointed to how the Lakers can be an improved team after the All-Star break, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“We just got to find our identity on the defensive end. This is like the third or fourth game in a row of letting a team score 120 (points), which is unacceptable. And we’ve just got to make the game fun. We’ve got to remember why we started playing this game — play for fun, not as a business and get too stressed on the court. I think the All-Star break is going to be really good for us. Get to recharge and get back with a new sense of focus.”
While the Lakers enter Wednesday 2.5 games back of eighth place in the Western Conference, Kuzma maintained he is not panicking and reiterated his belief of the team needing to play with joy:
“I’m always optimistic. I’m never really negative, so I believe that we can still do it. Just got to come together, have fun. The biggest thing is having fun. … We just have bumps in the road like every other team. We’re a great group of guys, everybody gets along, everybody is cool with each other. We’ve just got to bring that to the court and have fun. That’s the biggest thing. A lot of times we’re out there and we have sad faces and very focused faces, but I think we’re at our best when we’re having fun.”
Beyond the rash of injuries and subsequent lineup and rotation changes, the Lakers played through a stretch of intense Anthony Davis trade rumors. L.A. reportedly presented the New Orleans Pelicans with a handful of trade proposals, which included the young core.
Kuzma initially said he was not affected by the ongoing speculation but later admitted to succumbing to them. He was hardly alone, evident by the Lakers suffering a 42-point loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson met the team on the road trip to address them and speak with players individually about the ardent pursuit of a Davis trade. Kuzma thought Johnson doing so would suit the Lakers well, but some others weren’t quite as convinced, and the team’s play has supported that.
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