The Los Angeles Lakers finally earned their first win without LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the lineup on Friday night, routing the Cleveland Cavaliers and snapping their four-game losing streak.
The Lakers started out of the gate slow, turning the ball over and playing uninspired defense for much of the first half. However, things completely changed in the second half as Los Angeles played with much more energy and effort on both ends of the floor and turned the game into a blowout by the end of the third quarter.
Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder led the way for the Lakers with 24 and 17 points, respectively, while Kyle Kuzma filled up the box score with four points, eight rebounds and seven assists. It was a complete team effort to pull out the win, and it was much-needed as the Lakers have simply struggled to compete on an nightly basis.
Wesley Matthews admitted after the win that he and the team have been doing their best to adjust without having their two superstars available.
“There’s gonna be growing pains,” Matthews said. “You’ve got two of the best players in the game that you’re used to playing with no longer available. So yeah, everybody has to step up.
“We’re still gonna get everybody’s best shot. No one cares that AD and Bron aren’t playing for us right now, and we all got a job to do. That’s winning basketball games, that’s compete. It’s finding a new niche for everybody. We’ve got to find a way to adjust the style of play, find out different ways to win and it’s gonna come out with toughness, come with togetherness and come with just fight and scrappiness.”
Matthews also acknowledged that Lakers players have to play beyon their ideal roles right now could end up helping them in the long run.
“Obviously went Bron went down, it rattled the whole, NBA, not just our team…This is growing for us, it’s only gonna make us a scarier team when we get back healthy. Everybody is getting a new rhythm, everybody is getting an opportunity to showcase a little bit more, do a little bit more, gain a little bit more confidence.
“Then when those guys come back in, everybody else is just hitting on all cylinders and we got two of the best players in the world coming back. So right now we’ve just got to continue to hold the fort down, continue to fight, scrap, play together, find ways to win, stay, competitive, compete. Our goal is to win every game that we play still. So that hasn’t changed.”
Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka built the roster to complement the star power of James and Davis, so it should come as no surprise that they have struggled in their absence. The duo slots players in their natural roles, so without them on the floor everyone else is forced to play much more differently than they are accustomed to.
Being a Laker also means getting an opponent’s full effort and attention, something that is not new but is probably more pronounced given that they are also the defending champions. While the Purple and Gold are likely in for more rough outings until James and Davis come back, it is encouraging to know that they are starting to figure some things out.
Matthews credits defense for second half comeback against Cavaliers
After giving up 51 points to the Cavaliers in the first half, the Lakers hunkered down in the second half and held them to a paltry 35 points. Matthews discussed what he believes caused that turnaround.
“Our attention to detail on the defensive end, executing our schemes, just executing our gameplan and taking away some of their easy points, some of the self-inflicted damaging plays that we do to ourselves. Not turning the ball over, and just making plays for each other.
“Obviously shots falling helps everything, getting steals, getting out in transition. Playing against a non-set defense is ideal, so we were able to come out with the right energy and sustain it.”
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