The Los Angeles Lakers avoided tying their longest losing streak in franchise history Sunday night, with Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball helping the team snap a nine-game skid with a dominant 132-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
The Lakers played their best basketball in weeks in the victory, looking engaged on defense and letting their activity fuel a fastbreak attack that scored 42 of their points, their highest total in transition since 2001.
It would be understandable to be excited about those things, but Kuzma said the team is just focused on making sure they continue to trend upward.
“It’s just one win. We’ve got to play that way against, no offense, better teams. We’ve got to really prove it,” Kuzma said, adding that the key to doing so is relatively simple.
“Just keep doing what we did. We did a great job putting the focus on the defensive end. If we can do that, we’ve got a good chance playing against anybody.”
Ball, who scored 13 points to go with 10 rebounds and six assists in the victory, echoed Kuzma’s sentiment. “Do the same thing (against the Sacramento Kings). Come out and play defense, get on the break,” Ball said.
Ingram took things even further, saying not only should the Lakers not overhype this win given the context of it coming against a bad team, but that they should clear its collective mind of it entirely.
“Just throw this one away. Look at the good and bad things, but throw this away. Don’t get too high on this one and go into the next game with a different gameplan,” Ingram said.
The Lakers will have to, on some level, take Ingram’s advice. A win against the league-worst Hawks doesn’t solve all their problems. It doesn’t remove the drama currently surrounding the team due to Ball’s father again criticizing Lakers head coach Luke Walton, and it doesn’t fix all of their on-court woes.
However, a win is a win. The Lakers needed to snap this losing streak, and doing so in a dominant fashion is undoubtedly a morale boost for a team that hasn’t had a whole lot of positives to cling to during a recent month-plus stretch of particularly brutal play.
Walton said that it could be the start of a return to the type of competitive basketball the Lakers were playing early on when they were healthy and catching teams off-guard with their defense and pace.
“It wasn’t like it was just terrible basketball we played the whole time. We’re a much better team, obviously, when we’re healthy,” Walton said. “We had ‘Zo out there orchestrating the offense, and guys running, Brook, our seven-foot center, who can space the floor for us and protected the rim.
“The losses were piling up but it wasn’t all bad basketball. We were still competing and giving ourselves chances to win some of those games throughout that streak. We just weren’t getting the wins. It’s not like tonight all of a sudden something was just drastically different,” Walton said.
Walton cited defense and improved free-throw shooting as factors other than the Hawks not being a high-quality opponent as reasons why the Lakers were able to turn things around, but he added the biggest thing that gives him faith that the Lakers can continue to improve is that the team has never quit.
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