After a 7-5 start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers caught the NBA by surprise with their evolution early on, but also at their willingness to listen to head coach Luke Walton. Prior to Friday’s contest against Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers understood a tough stretch was ahead of them.
Friday night, the team came out to play against the Spurs, in a close contest throughout. The game was relatively close throughout the first half, with a score of 52-52 at halftime. However, the Spurs were able to stretch out the lead, just as championship caliber teams do, and had the Lakers trailing the remainder of the game.
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were a powerhouse duo, causing the Lakers problems all throughout the game. While the Lakers made a late run in the fourth quarter, they were ultimately unable to get stops towards the end of the game. Eventually, the Spurs would win by a score of 116-107.
Popovich was his characteristic self during the game, demanding perfection and snapping at his team at any miscues on the defense. The Lakers were getting consistent play from guards Lou Williams, Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson while D’Angelo Russell did not suit up with a sore knee.
While Julius Randle was a little undersized against Aldridge and Pau Gasol, his speed and deceptiveness also put forth a strong night. Many teams have been shocked at the quick development of the Lakers, with even Popovich telling Walton how impressed he was, via the Lakers’ Twitter account:
Gregg Popovich: "Luke's done a great job of making them believe … I am just so impressed of what he has done with this group."
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 19, 2016
The young core is fully bought in to Walton and his new system. Clarkson stated he would run through a wall for his new head coach, while Russell and Randle are constantly learning and connecting with the 36-year-old head coach.
The organization isn’t shy in stating that the Lakers are going through a rebuilding phase, as it seems they have found the young core they plan to prosper with. That core is already showing signs of maturity, while also implementing Walton’s offensive schemes.
After the contest on Friday, Popovich stated that Walton has his unit moving in the right direction, courtesy of Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus:
Per Walton, Popovich told him "You guys are doing a good job" after the game
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) November 19, 2016
Through the first few weeks of the NBA season, Walton is definitely a frontrunner for the Coach of the Year Award, as no one realistically expected an above .500 record from the Lakers thus far.
Popovich himself, who went through a rough first season with the Spurs, even noted how the group is responding well to the 26th head coach in Lakers’ franchise history.
After the Friday loss, the Lakers record feel to 7-6. Up next on the schedule is a Sunday showdown at Staples Center against the Chicago Bulls. This next portion of the schedule is surely a stepping-stone for Walton, as it will truly exploit any weaknesses, while also demonstrating which teams the Lakers can contend with.