The Los Angeles Lakers finally finished up their road trip this week and began the current homestand on a high note with a victory at the Staples Center against the other Los Angeles Clippers.
The Lakers’ first game of this past week was against the Charlotte Hornets, who are currently first in the Southeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. Brandon Ingram and company went into Charlotte feeling like it was a winnable game and played liked it in the first half. The young Lakers squad scored 73 points in the first half and soared to a 19-point lead in Charlotte, but the Hornets outscored Los Angeles 35-23 in the third quarter. While the Lakers fought back, Julius Randle having a career-high five blocks, Charlotte was to stay in the lead by controlling the offensive glass. Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum ruined the Lakers night leading their team to an 117-113 victory.
The next game of the trip was against the Miami Heat. Just like the Lakers, Miami is going through a rebuild and relying on some of their young players to develop into stars to take the team to the next level. Luke Walton’s squad traveled to South Beach looking to get back on track and end the road trip with two wins in Florida. Once again, Los Angeles built a 19-point lead but allowed Justice Winslow have a career night with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Also, Erik Spoelstra’s team hit 11-of-22 three-pointers and shoot 53.6 percent for the game to keep the Lakers’ losing streak alive.
The last game of their seven-game roadie was in Orlando. Los Angeles was hoping to at least close the trip with a victory against a beatable Magic team. D’Angelo Russell went into central Florida looking to get his team off to a good start, but Serge Ibaka had other ideas, tallying four of his five blocks in the first quarter. The Lakers had some runs in this game, pulling within four at one point, but couldn’t survive their horrid first quarter. Los Angeles shot 35.6 percent for the game and ending up losing, 109-90.
Christmas Day was the last game of the week and a much-needed trip home. After two weeks on the road the team seemed happy to sleep in their beds and spend Christmas morning with their families. The holiday showdown started with the Los Angeles Clippers showing they are still a team to be reckoned with even without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan helped the Clippers cover up some holes by slamming down an alley-oop for the first points in the game and dishing out four assists in the first quarter. Lob City led going into halftime. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng helped their team dominate the third quarter, outscoring their cotenants 34-16. In the fourth quarter, the lead drop to four points, but after a corner three from D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers were able to pull ahead for good.
The former lottery pick out of Kansas has become a fan favorite. Robinson has been the player Luke Walton looks to when the Lakers are not playing with enough energy when they can’t seem to get a rebound or if the defense is starting to falter. Robinson played in three of the four games this week and averaged 17.7 minutes while pulling down 10.7 rebounds (with four offensive rebounds). Spectrum Sportsnet highlighted Robinson for his heads-up play at the end of the first quarter. The forward/center came up with a loose ball as time was running out and hustled down the floor to hit a floater as time expired. The backup center was bounced around the league since his was drafted in 2012 and we are all hoping to see him make himself a home here in Los Angeles.
Randle had a wonderful Christmas week this year starting with the birth of his first child, Kyden. The Lakers starting power forward missed both games in Florida to witness the birth of his first born, but the other two games Randle provided the Lakers much-needed help. The former Kentucky Wildcat produced the Lakers with a career-high five blocks against the Hornets, give the Lakers every chance they needed to sneak away with a victory in North Carolina. Against the Clippers, Randle was on triple-double watch putting up 13 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. Randle has proven to be an x-factor for the Lakers by being an incredible secondary facilitator and proving that he can be a real asset on the defensive end.
Deng has made it back on the trending up list for the Lakers. The former Blue Devil has picked up his play as of late averaging 12 points and nine rebounds in his 33.3 minutes of play. Deng has been able to play more power forward with Larry Nance Jr. going out with an injury and put Deng in a position that allows him to succeed. Against the Clippers on Christmas, Deng crashed the boards, coming down with 12 rebounds (five offensive). Deng had some problems with bigger players like Serge Ibaka but can hold his own against most of the power forwards in the league. Walton has said that he has wanted to get Deng more minutes at the four this season, but has been able to because of the play of Nance and Randle.
Larry Nance Jr:
Nance is trending down because of the knee bruise that he suffered when tracking down a loose ball against the Hornets. Nance has been a player that the Lakers look to when the ball stops moving on the offensive end and when they aren’t playing aggressively on the defensive end. Without his presence, the Lakers have looked to Robinson and Randle to come in and start diving after the loose balls and bringing high energy to the defensive end.
Black was one of the most consistent players on the Lakers before he got hurt. Black did the little things for the Lakers like set good screens and roll to the basket with purpose, which forced the opposing defense to guard him and leave shooters like Nick Young open on the perimeter. The undrafted player out of Memphis also provided solid defense and was a part of some of the Lakers best defensive lineups, but since he has gone out with an injury, it must give opportunities to Robinson, who has shown he can provide a lot of the same things as Black. The longer he is out with an injury, the more opportunities are given to other players, which may lead to Black seeing himself out of the rotation.
The Lakers looked like they had figured how to move the ball at the beginning of this week. The team’s box scores against the Cavaliers and Hornets read 30 assists and 29 assists. The Lakers only averaged 17.3 assists over the next three games, which is less the NBA’s lowest assist average of 18.5 by the Phoenix Suns. This team seems to tighten up late in games and rely on isolation plays. The Lakers play their best when the ball moving seamlessly from one player to another and until the ball finds the open man. Walton has seemed frustrated with the team’s lack of faith in the offense down the stretch but understands that a lot of young teams revert to bad habits when the going gets tough. Hopefully, the Lakers figure things out.