The Los Angeles Lakers finished the past week a mere .500 in their four games. When they played well they played very well, but when they played poorly they put up very little fight and were blown out in their two defeats.
This is a team that struggled during the week to maintain consistency from one game to the next.
The Lakers played all week minus three players: Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo who were still out with injuries, and Michael Beasley who has been absent for personal reasons.
They weathered the storm pretty well, but when center JaVale McGee missed the game against the Washington Wizards, L.A. could not compensate for his absence and it led to one of the team’s worst losses of the year.
Here is a summary of what went right and what went wrong as the Lakers missed an opportunity to edge closer to the top of the Western Conference standings.
LAKERS 108, HEAT 105
The Lakers began the week with a win over the Miami Heat. They had defeated the Heat on the road earlier this season, so the game figured to be a comfortable win. In the end, it was much closer than expected.
The Lakers were led by Kyle Kuzma who finished with 33 points on 14-of-22 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 from three-point range. He also had seven rebounds.
LeBron James chipped in 28 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds, just missing a triple double as he seems to do almost every night. Lonzo Ball had a solid game as well, finishing with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
On the negative side, McGee had a rare off night, making only one of his seven attempts. However, McGee still contributed with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Josh Hart had another disappointing game, finishing with 9 points on 3-for-9 shooting. He had 5 rebounds and didn’t register a single assist. Hart was given a big opportunity to cement his role as a starter while Ingram has been out, but he has failed to make a consistent showing and is certain to return to the bench when Ingram returns.
The reason the game was so close was that the second unit played very poorly. Every starter had a positive plus/minus rating while every reserve finished in a negative position. The reserves were outscored 66 to 24 by the Heat’s second unit.
The Lakers missed eight free throws in the game, and no one on the team other than Kuzma and Lance Stephenson shot better than 50 percent from the line.
ROCKETS 126, LAKERS 111
This was an odd game which was closer than the final score would indicate, as Houston pulled away late in the fourth quarter. The Lakers battled but in the end could not survive an avalanche of missed free throws and being out-rebounded 43-31, with the Rockets grabbing 15 offensive boards leading to a ton of second chance points.
The free throws and rebounds were a major factor, but what hurt the Lakers most was the number of fouls they committed, including 19 on James Harden alone who converted 18 times from the free throw line.
Every time the Lakers got close to Harden a foul was called. The Lakers were so frustrated that they began guarding with their hands behind their backs. Harden has shot a combined 34 free throws in two games against the Lakers this season.
The story of the game was Harden, who had a 50-point triple-double and was fouled on nearly every shot attempt.
LAKERS 128, HORNETS 100
This was one of the Lakers’ best efforts of the season. They were no doubt frustrated following the loss to the Rockets, so they came out with great energy and sustained their hustle for 48 minutes.
The margin of victory does not represent how thorough the Hornets were beaten, as the Lakers led by 36 points for much of the second half.
The highlight of the game was the triple-doubles registered by James and Ball, the first time teammates had accomplished that feat in the same game since 2007 and the first time for the Lakers since 1982 when Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it. Only eight times in NBA history have teammates finished with triple-doubles in the same contest.
Ball, in particular, was outstanding in this game, which was one of the best of his career. It was not just his 16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 steals and a block. His biggest contribution was the incredible defense he played on Hornets star Kemba Walker, who entered the game averaging 26 points a game but finished with only four points on 2-of-13 shooting, 1 rebound and 3 assists.
Able support was given to James and Ball by Tyson Chandler, who had 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds. Kuzma, who finished with 14 points, had his string of 20-point games broken but because of the blowout, played only 27 minutes and not at all in the fourth quarter.
Other notable contributions came from Lance Stephenson who finished with 11 points and Svi Mykhailiuk who scored 12 points. The latter has gotten an opportunity to play consistent minutes with Ingram and Rondo out, and while he started the year terribly he has gotten a little better and created some traction for himself in recent games.
WIZARDS 128, LAKERS 110
As well as the Lakers played the night before against Charlotte, that is how badly they played against the Wizards in a game that was over after five minutes as they fell behind by 16 points almost immediately and never recovered.
The Wizards are in the midst of a turmoil-filled season and are not even in the playoff picture, but you would never know it by this contest as they outshot and out-hustled the Lakers from beginning to end. The Lakers played with no energy or enthusiasm, and the Wizards were sky high emotionally as if this were game seven of the NBA Finals.
John Wall and Bradley Beal were unstoppable, finishing with 40 and 25 points, respectively. In fact, the Wizards had four players score 20 or more points, and with McGee out, they feasted in the paint.
James had a rare off-night, finishing with only 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting for the field. He had four turnovers and struggled to make free throws. Hart was awful, finishing with only 4 points on 2-for-10 shooting, with no rebounds and no assists.
The only positive in the game was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who gave one of the strongest efforts of his Lakers career with 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting and 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Caldwell-Pope also had 6 rebounds and 5 assists in an all-around performance.
Kuzma finished with 20 points, his seventh 20-point outing in the past eight games. But he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and most of his points were meaningless as they came in the second half after the game had long since been decided. He also had an atrocious 6 turnovers.
Ball finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, to go along with 3 steals and 2 blocks in a solid, if unspectacular, all-around game.
The Lakers showed again this week that when they are focused and play with energy from the start they are a good team, but they are still prone to giving listless performances too often which is inexcusable.
Their turnovers and terrible free throw shooting continue to be serious problems. They are last in the league in free throw shooting and conversely their opponents are shooting the highest percentage in the league. It is not a recipe for sustained success.