As the Los Angeles Lakers saw their road their last multi-game road trip of the season come to an end with a loss to the Detroit Pistons, it was obvious how fatigued the team was down the stretch.
Lonzo Ball played well, flirting with a triple-double of 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting, with 11 assists and eight rebounds. Fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma also had another strong night while starting out of position at small forward due to Brandon Ingram’s persistent groin injury, posting a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds in his Michigan homecoming.
Brook Lopez had a career-high nine assists to go with 14 points and five blocks, while Julius Randle had 23 points and 11 rebounds. But what stood out most statistically was how short of a rotation the Lakers had to play.
With Ingram out, along with Josh Hart’s continued absence, every single starter played more than their average minutes per game this season on the last night of the four-game road trip, while only Travis Wear and Tyler Ennis made it to double-digits for minutes played among the Lakers’ bench players.
Because of that heavy workload, Lakers head coach Luke Walton was pleased of the fight his team showed against the Pistons, and the whole road trip, something he went into detail about while speaking to reporters after the loss, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“It was in the same boat as far as the competitive level. I was a little concerned because I thought we played really well in the first half. We weren’t turning the ball over, we had 20 assists on 22 field goals, yet we were only up two. They went on that late 7-0 run, so I knew our guys were fatigued. I pretty much played Zo that entire first half. KCP and Kuz played most of it, so I knew we were going to get tired. It’s been a long trip. … I’m really proud of our group for the way that they fought all trip long, with being down in numbers. And even the bench guys, we’ve got a group out there that’s never played together before; Gary Payton in there, Tyler (Ennis), Travis (Wear) and Channing (Frye). We competed, which is what we can ask for from our guys. We gave ourselves a chance, we just came up short.”
The Lakers staying as competitive as they did against Detroit on the back-end of a road trip with no playoff berth to play for is worthy of praise.
It’s easy to say, ‘Well, of course, they should compete, they’re paid to play hard,’ which is fair, but there are plenty of teams over the course of NBA history who haven’t once they got to the dog days of the season.
Walton and his roster deserve praise for not ending huddles with, ‘One, two, three, Cancun,’ and still going out and giving it their all despite their injury woes. That they’re doing so is a promising sign for the culture Walton was tasked with building.