With Paul George in the house at Staples Center getting his first in-person look at the young Lakers, they lost their eighth straight game, leading a frustrated Kyle Kuzma to say the team “flat-out gave up” in an embarrassing 133-96 rout at the hands of Oklahoma City.
“We gave up,” Kuzma said. “You could see, they got basket after basket, we had no resistance on them on the defensive end and offensive end. When things got tough, we tried to do it individually, and you can’t do that in this league.
“They took a little lead, and we just went to being selfish on the floor. We didn’t compete on defense. They killed us. … To lose by [nearly] 40, it is pretty embarrassing to be out there.”
For the majority of this season, the rebuilding Lakers have been surprisingly competitive, and in most games down to the end. But the team has been hurt recently by injuries to Lonzo Ball (shoulder), Brandon Ingram (quads) and Brook Lopez (ankle) and by legal restrictions preventing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from playing in games outside the state of California.
Players have also been frustrated in recent weeks. Following a lackluster 95-92 home loss to Portland on Dec. 23, Lakers coach Luke Walton said he saw players “pouting” on the bench. Veteran center Andrew Bogut admitted that players were clearly “frustrated” not just with playing time and injuries affecting rotations, but the Lakers’ clear plan of going after two star free agents, such as George, in free agency next summer.
The Lakers had a team meeting last Thursday, a “heart-to-heart” in which players aired out their issues, ranging from playing time to the team’s direction building toward next summer when management hopes to revamp the roster.
“It felt a little bit like we gave in or we felt sorry for ourselves a little bit, which isn’t who we are as a group,” Walton said of the Lakers, who aside from a six-point double-overtime loss to Houston have lost their other five most recent games by an average of 19.4 points. “I am going to have to check the tape to see why we completely stopped competing out there.”
“Our fans deserve better than that, and our organization deserves better than that,” Walton added.
Despite having Lopez — who returned after missing eight games — and Caldwell-Pope on the floor, the Lakers were outscored 107-70 after being tied at 26 after the first quarter. Oklahoma City shot 60.2 percent and led by as many as 39 points.
And it wasn’t just the Big Three of Russell Westbrook (20 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds), George (24 points) and Carmelo Anthony (21 points) who crushed the Lakers. Los Angeles allowed rookie Terrance Ferguson, who had scored a total of 29 points this season, to go off for 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including six 3-pointers.
Since playing some of their best basketball during the most difficult four-game stretch that any team has faced in the past three seasons — against Cleveland, Golden State twice and Houston in late December — the Lakers have steadily declined.
“Except for the past two games, we have been competing and fighting in games,” Kuzma said of 37- and 18-point losses to Oklahoma City and Minnesota. “Today was five steps back. [It is] something that we need to address, whatever, correct. Something has to change for sure.”
“That is not being a Laker,” added Kuzma, who scored 18 points. “I have only been a Laker for a couple of months, but that’s not it.”
Despite the horrendous showing, George was complimentary of the Lakers’ future.
“The best thing is they have young guys that are potentially going to be big names in this league,” George said. “They just got to continue to keep working.”
Ball will practice Thursday after missing six straight games and could play against Charlotte on Friday depending on how his bruised shoulder responds after practice.
The Lakers’ schedule will ease up a bit after a grueling stretch in which they have played nine of their past 11 games against teams with winning records. The Lakers’ next three opponents at home are Charlotte, Atlanta and Sacramento.
“I think injuries have a little bit to do with it,” Walton said. “This is something we will fix. We are not going to start getting blown out now. We are not going to start feeling sorry for ourselves. We are going to get back in the gym, go to work, show film. I believe in the character of our team. We will fix it.”