Mark the calendar: It’s been nine days of a seven-game road trip before the reigning Los Angeles Lakers showed any sign of being weak this season, in Thursday’s 107-92 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Los Angeles scored only 34 points in the second half – the fewest points scored by the Lakers in any game since. LeBron James He joined the franchise in 2018 – and was beaten 25-14 in the fourth quarter by the Pistons who came in at night with their second worst league record at 4-14.
The Lakers went goalless for nearly seven minutes – from the 8:40 mark in the fourth quarter until there was a 1:50 on the clock – as the Pistons’ lead swelled from one to 17.12 drought with two turns with Detroit taking over.
“I think we weren’t in defensive contact at the level we were supposed to be,” he said Kyle Kuzma, Who spoiled 22 points and 10 rebounds due to the Lakers’ late meltdown. “On an individual level, everyone made mistakes and collectively with those who caused the team’s defense a little pain.”
The team’s defense, which ranked first in the NBA on Thursday, played without him Anthony DavisLast season’s best defensive player, who was suffering from bruises in his right thigh.
Whatever explanation might exist for the poor presentation, whether it was Davis’ absence, a build-up of fatigue down the road or the challenge of cascading, James didn’t want to hear it.
“I mean, we still have games to play, work to do,” he said. “We have to keep getting better, and you really can’t fathom your mind for the number of days you spend on the road or whatever the situation. Every team does it. Every team makes a long road trip. We are professionals.”
“We have to keep our minds fresh, keep our bodies as refreshed as possible to get out there and put in a full 48-minute, or nearly 48-minute, game. Obviously we haven’t done that in the last two games, and we have to be better on Saturday.”
Coach Frank Vogel challenged the Lakers last year by not giving up back-to-back matches throughout the season, and that has remained part of the team’s culture this year. Los Angeles cut more than a quarter of the way during the season before failing the mission, losing to Detroit one night after falling to Philadelphia.
Successive losses also marred the Lakers’ perfect road record 10-0 to start the season, which set a record in the franchise. They are now 10-2, with matches in Boston on Saturday and Atlanta on Monday to end the journey on the road.
While no one sounded the alarm, both Kuzma and James lamented how the Lakers had kept trying to find a set rotation, and due to the lack of training time, they ended up trying new formations in the games.
We are a brand new team, Kuzma said. “We’re playing like 14 people. It’s a tough situation. Obviously, we’re working through things. The coaching staff is trying to figure out the rotations and figure out what suits the best, and what players can play certain squads. Just the point of the season we’re in.”
Kuzma offered a 10,000-foot perspective, saying losses – even nasty ones like Thursday – are “just the beauty of the journey” and the regular season is supposed to be a dress rehearsal for resolving kinks ahead of the qualifiers, anyway. Since the Lakers’ wild ride spanned more than a week and a half, he recognized the very real challenge of constant travel. “It’s still a pandemic here,” he said.
Vogel put the performance on himself, saying he had to do a better job putting his players in a position to succeed, but in the end he took it as a night not to bother his team.
“We’ll be fine,” Vogel said. “You have nights like this in a long season. We will be fine. We will be back again. I’m not happy, none of us are happy with the way we played tonight, but we will get back strong.”