The Los Angeles Lakers are in a tough spot as a team as their season comes to a close. After their loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night, Luke Walton, Brook Lopez and company have dropped seven of their last nine games.
With no playoff spot to play for, Walton knows keeping his young team focused down the stretch will be tough. “It is hard. But that’s what we want. That’s how you grow, is through adversity and challenging yourself,” he said.
“If we’re going to be a championship team one day, we have to be mentally tough. I know we’re not ready for that right now, but this is a great opportunity for us. Even though we’re tired and hurt and down in bodies, and playing different lineups, it’s a great opportunity to still embrace the fact that we are playing basketball at this level.”
Part of the reason Walton believes the Lakers still have to give their best effort despite dealing with injuries to Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Isaiah Thomas goes beyond any lost playoff contention.
“I mean, our fans are still showing up. They’re paying their hard-earned money to come support us. We have a responsibility to them, to ourselves, to the organization, to play extremely hard no matter what,” Walton said.
The Lakers are a young team, and sometimes the motivation of fans paying to see them or their own internal improvement isn’t enough for such teams to give it their all with nothing left to play for.
Lopez has played for numerous lottery teams, and he doesn’t think the Lakers are the type of group to give up down the stretch. “I don’t think that’s something we have to worry about making sure of,” he said.
“We’ve got the right group of guys here. Obviously, we just want to continue to get better, and we have pride as well. With the wrong kind of team and guys, yeah. But that’s absolutely not the case here.”
If the Lakers do have that type of team, Walton says it will be a strong sign for the group’s future.
“If we do [play through adversity], we will finish the season more advanced, further along, more mentally tough, than if we just give in and say, ‘Hey, it’s been a solid year. Let’s just get after it this summer,'” Walton said.