For three quarters, the Los Angeles Lakers played one of their best games of the season on both ends of the court. Unfortunately, there are four quarters in a game, and the Lakers’ 13 point lead entering the final period evaporated in the blink of an eye as the team was outscored 37-13 in the final period, losing 119-108 to the Washington Wizards.
It was a disappointing defeat considering the Lakers looked like they were in control at the end of the third quarter and played exceedingly well in that period. Those fans rooting for the team to tank were sweating. They knew that if the Lakers won this game they would fall into a tie with the Phoenix Suns for the second worst record in the league.
The Lakers were again without Brandon Ingram who is dealing with patella tenonitis. Still, they made an astounding 15 shots in a row to end the third quarter, the ball was moving, and the energy on defense was excellent. The coaching staff contributed to the fourth quarter collapse, however, as they started the period with the wrong personnel on the court and were slow to respond to what was unfolding.
Here are three takeaways from the exciting but disappointing loss to the Wizards.
1. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson Played Very Well Together
Russell and Clarkson are talented individually, but for two years the Lakers have needed to figure out if they can play well together and be the team’s future starting back court. A serious mistake was made by the coaches this year and last: They did not create the ideal environment to answer this important question.
Last season, Russell came off the bench for much of year while Clarkson was a starter, and this season their roles were reversed.
In truth, Russell and Clarkson have never been given a fair, sustained opportunity to show if they could become an effective starting duo, but that has changed over the past few games. Until this game, the results were mixed, as they both played pretty well but not at the same time.
Against the Wizards, however, Russell and Clarkson put it all together and held their own against the
Wizards heralded backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. They combined for 50 points and 12 assists.
Russell was red hot in the first half when he scored 20 points. Clarkson went crazy in the third quarter,
scoring 14 points on 7-7 shooting from the field. They also combined for 12 assists.
Russell and Clarkson both have a lot to prove, but if they continue to complement one another the rest
of the season the way they did in this one game, they might just convince the front office to bring them
both back next fall and as the starting guards.
2. Julius Randle Had Another Disappointing Outing.
Julius Randle continues to baffle with his underwhelming performance on the court in the final stretch
of the season. He only had 6 points on 2-7 shooting from the field against the Wizards, to go along with
6 rebounds and 5 assists. He lost focus and made two consecutive miscues with the ball in the final
minute of the game which sealed the loss for the purple and gold.
What is most disturbing about Randle, however, is his continued poor defense. He is a big, strong guy
who looks like he would be an effective defender, but he frequently plays with little energy, and shows
little effort, on that end of the court. Far too often he does not come out to contest shots on the
perimeter, does not rotate quickly to help his teammates, and is slow to get back at all on defense.
It is difficult to understand what makes Randle tick, but until he gets it together mentally as well as
physically he will continue to underachieve.
3. The Team Continues to Get a Good Boost from the Second Unit.
One pleasant surprise this past month has been the number of bench players who are making a solid
contribution. Guards Tyler Ennis and David Nwaba are flourishing on offense and defense in recent
games. On this night, Nwaba scored 8 points on 4-5 shooting, grabbed 8 rebounds, and had 3 steals in
23 minutes of playing time. Ennis scored in double figures again, this time finishing with 11 points, and
he also ran the offense aggressively.
Larry Nance, Jr. scored only 4 point, but he had 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was also outstanding on
defense, as usual. The team just plays better when Nance is on the court, and if he can just become
more aggressive on the offensive end, it may soon be time to see how he plays with the starting unit.
Finally, it was good to see Tarik Black have a solid game as he has been quiet the past month. He played
23 minutes and finished with 10 points on 5-6 shooting.