With a new-look roster that entailed players needing to develop chemistry with one another, and facing a tough early schedule, the Los Angeles Lakers began the season 2-5. After falling to the Portland Trail Blazers by nine points in the opener, each of the other losses were by four points or less.
Simply put, the Lakers were competitive in each of their games but often struggled to get necessary stops on defense, execute on offense, or both, any given night. There’s since been improvement, and wins have come with it.
Entering Friday’s matchup with the Utah Jazz, the Lakers have won 8 of their last 10. “We’re more consistent. We talk about our team and where we’re trying to get to, the things we want to do, and we talk about it taking time,” head coach Luke Walton said at shootaround.
“Our culture’s taking place, guys are getting more comfortable together. There’s still going to be a lot of ups and downs as the season goes. As of right now, we’re just getting better as a team and getting more comfortable with each other.
“We’ve gotten better at it as far as being able to get stops down the stretch, being able to execute some options. Late in that Cleveland game, we had a nice play where they tried to cheat up on LeBron and he trusted his teammates.
“Threw it to ‘Zo, ‘Zo penetrated the baseline and left it for JaVale and he had a nice layup. Those are things that come with playing together, learning each other and trusting each other. It’s still early and we’ll continue to work on those things and get even better, but improvement is happening.”
Kyle Kuzma, who’s become entrenched with the starters since filling in for Brandon Ingram during his suspension, echoed Walton’s sentiment. “Just everybody learning, figuring out each other’s game and playing well. We’re probably one of the hotter teams in the league,” Kuzma said.
“I think there’s more improvement to make but we’re doing a great job of closing out games. That’s one thing that really harmed us when we were 2-5. We had too many close games that we couldn’t necessarily close. Now it seems a little easier.”
In addition to teammates becoming more familiar with one another, the turnaround can be traced to the Lakers signing Tyson Chandler after he was bought out by the Phoenix Suns and cleared waivers.