After a promising start to the week, the Los Angeles Lakers were blown out in Utah and then suffered an embarrassing defeat in a 101-95 loss at home to the worst team in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the kind of loss that gets head coaches fired and players traded.
Although their wins were against teams with losing records, it looked early in the week as though the Lakers were starting to learn how to win without LeBron James, which was good because it is still uncertain when he will be able to return.
The two wins were against the Dallas Mavericks on the road and the Detroit Pistons at home. With recent home losses to the lowly New York Knicks and Cavaliers, the Lakers appear to be in deep trouble.
They have the worst offensive rating in the league since James went out and appear to be sinking fast in the Western Conference standings.
Here is a recap of what went right and what went wrong as the Lakers fight to remain in playoff contention until James can return.
What Went Right
Given the incredibly tight playoff race in the Western Conference, in which every team other than the Phoenix Suns has at least an outside chance of making the playoffs, the best thing about this past week is that the Lakers managed to win two games without James.
It was rarely pretty, and nearly every player had good and bad moments, but in mid-April when the regular season ends, all that will be remembered is that the team picked up two wins.
Each member of the young core had good moments. Coincidentally, for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, their best moment of the week all came in the win over Dallas. It was fortuitous, since to that point the Mavericks had lost only three games at home all season.
In that contest, Ingram had a season-high 29 points to go along with 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. For a change, he was aggressive for all four quarters, and he accomplished it while sharing the ball with others which he has not often done this season.
Ball, likewise, had a very good all-around game against the Mavericks. He had 21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. He was aggressive and played with confidence. Ball also had some very good moments on defense, as has become his custom.
Hart had arguably his best game of the year in Dallas. He has been very inconsistent for most of the season, and his outside shot has abandoned him more and more. In this game, however, he had 14 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in 43 minutes. He insisted on playing the entire second half, and Lakers head coach Luke Walton allowed for it.
The Lakers’ highlight of the week came against the Pistons, when Kuzma scored 41 points in less than 30 minutes. Kuzma had 19 first-half points but really exploded in the third quarter when he scored 22 points which included four three-point shots.
Arguably more impressive was Kuzma’s defense on Pistons star Blake Griffin. Griffin did not have a single rebound for the first time in his career, and he scored only 16 points, well below his season average.
Kuzma also finished the week strong, scoring 29 points against the Cavaliers. In the fourth quarter, when everyone else on the team seemed overwhelmed by the moment, Kuzma took over the game and scored 18 points. He almost brought the Lakers all the way back, but unfortunately, it was not enough.
Another positive this past week was the play of Michael Beasley. For various reasons he has played in only 15 games this season, but he returned recently following the death of his mother and has been the team’s best player off the bench.
The Lakers have struggled all season to score when their starters are out, so Beasley’s play was a revelation as he scored in double figures in three of the four games, including 19 points on his birthday.
It is important to point out that Beasley has never been known for his defense, but there were times this week when he was solid on that end of the floor. He is also not known for passing much, but he did distribute.
If Beasley can stay healthy and continue to play the way he did this past week, it could be a major positive factor in the Lakers’ favor the rest of the season.
What Went Wrong
The Utah game was bad, as the Lakers inexplicably came out with no energy and were blown out by a team that was quickly gaining on them in the Western Conference standings. No one played well in the loss.
Kuzma made only four of 18 shots, Ingram had zero assists even though he was the team’s primary ballhandler, and Ball had 7 points while making only three of 13 shots from the floor.
As a team, the Lakers starters made only 17-of-56 shots, which is miserable. For the game, the team shot 35.9 percent from the field and 66.7 percent at the free throw line.
If the Jazz game was bad, there are no words to adequately describe the misery of the loss to the Cavaliers. Cleveland had lost 12 games in a row and was giving up 130 points a night. But on this night, the Lakers couldn’t make shots, couldn’t make free throws, and couldn’t defend.
Ball and Ingram started strong but largely disappeared in the second half, as usual. Ingram finished with 22 points but 11 were in the first quarter and he was mostly a non-factor after half time. Ball had 13 points but was only 2-for-8 from three-point range. He only had two points in the second half.
Conversely, Kuzma did not score at all in the first quarter and didn’t really show up until the fourth quarter, when he scored 18 points, finishing with a team-high 29 points on the night. He also led the Lakers in rebounds with nine and had four assists.
Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were terrible on both ends of the floor. They were a combined five for 21 from the field. Caldwell-Pope was 0-for-6 from three-point range and Hart was 1-for-8.
What is especially disturbing is that the Lakers are starting every game with little energy and falling behind immediately. It doesn’t make sense for a young team trying to prove itself, and the coaches have to share some of the blame when the team is not ready to compete when the games start.
If the Lakers have any game plan for their half-court offense, it was not readily apparent this week. Ingram, not Ball, brings the ball up most of the time. The typical sequence is a meaningless pass or two and then someone chucks up a poor three-point shot.
The problem is, the Lakers are a terrible shooting team from deep. Against the Cavaliers, they were only 7-for-34 from behind the arc.
In short, while the Lakers excel in a transition offense, as the season wears on there are fewer and fewer opportunities to score in transition. In the half-court offense, the ball doesn’t move much or with any particular purpose, especially with James out of the lineup. Thus, there are few uncontested shots.
The Lakers play the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, another team they should beat, but at this point in the season nothing can be taken for granted. They are finishing a stretch of games against lower tier teams, but they haven’t been able to take advantage.
After the Bulls, the Lakers play the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
Reminder: Vivid Seats is the Official Ticket Reseller of LakersNation.com. New Customers use “LAKERSNATION” (all CAPS) in the Vivid Seats App on your phone and get 10% off any Lakers home game ticket order for the remainder of the season.