Lakers’ blowout loss lands squarely on Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball
MINNEAPOLIS — Sunday’s game between the Timberwolves and Lakers will primarily be remembered as the night Tom Thibodeau learned a 22-point win wasn’t enough to save his job.
From the Lakers’ perspective, however, the 108-86 loss will perhaps go down as the game Luke Walton tried too hard and his most important players tried not at all.
Walton’s decision to start 7-footer Ivica Zubac alongside center JaVale McGee in order to keep the Timberwolves off the glass was a clear and immediate disaster. The Lakers fell behind 15-1 before Walton could get Zubac off the floor four minutes into the game. The Timberwolves’ lead ballooned to 22-3 before the Lakers showed any signs of life.
And that didn’t come until Walton had to pull Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the second overall picks in the 2016 and ’17 drafts. Those who have followed the Lakers on their recent journey without LeBron James understand the pressure that’s mounting on the 21-year-olds, whose turn in the spotlighthas been defined by inconsistency at best and futility at worst.
On Sunday, Ball was scoreless in 23 minutes, while Ingram scored 13 points on 16 shots.
Walton has long been a champion of both players and has defended them intensely when they have struggled. But Sunday brought his most pointed criticism of two players who represent the second wave of the Lakers’ attack (when healthy).
“They’re trying, but they’re young,” Walton said after the Lakers lost for the fifth time in six games. “At some point, we need more passion. We need more fight. And that’s not scoring more. That’s more diving for loose balls, communicating loudly, grabbing (rebounds). … It’s not just them, but until we get healthy again, you’ve got to play in this league with some passion and fire.”
It was not just Walton who called out the Lakers for their lack of intensity. It was a theme throughout the locker room.
“I don’t think right now we’re competing hard enough with the situation that we’re in,” veteran center Tyson Chandler said. “Because the thing is, just because Bron comes back or (Rajon) Rondo comes back, you still want that type of competition. Because it just makes it that much easier and then when you’re flowing into the playoffs.
“That’s what it’s going to be like. You’ve got to compete for every possession because in the playoffs one possession loses the game.”
Teams are certainly allowed empty performances over the course of an 82-game season. Even with James playing, the Lakers had one earlier in the year in Orlando and at one point faced a 31-point first-quarter deficit to Toronto back in November. But Sunday felt different. The Lakers, now 21-19, are sliding in the West after improving to six games over .500 with a win in Golden State on Christmas.
“It’s hard to win in this league when you are healthy,” Walton said. “So you need to double that effort when guys are down.”
Once again, the Lakers’ young stars said the right things after failing to do them.
“We’re down a lot of scorers right now,” Ball said. “I’ve got to pick up that load. Obviously I didn’t do it tonight. I’ve got to pick it up tomorrow.”
In their previous game this season at Target Center, back in the days when Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler still drew paychecks from the Timberwolves, the Lakers let Minnesota grab 20 offensive rebounds.
With Kyle Kuzma missing his second straight game with a lower back contusion, Walton didn’t want to start Josh Hart for a second straight game at power forward with a matchup against Taj Gibson. Thus the Twin Towers strategy was born.
“We just want to be big and to be able to physically hold our own, but we weren’t able to score the ball,” Walton said. “We did an all right job rebounding, but I guess they weren’t missing shots, so that’s not a fair stat to look at.”
Coaching changes were the topic du jour Sunday night, so it was impossible not to wonder just what Magic Johnson’s patience level is with Walton during this stretch. The new starting lineup was bold, and upon further consideration, a high-visibility decision that failed to pay off. However, Johnson is on record as saying Walton’s job is safe barring “something drastic” (we await the definition of that ominous phrase). Even Kobe Bryant felt the need to respond to a Twitter antagonist who suggested Walton was the problem.