When the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this month, head coach Luke Walton made a surprising lineup change by starting Ivica Zubac alongside JaVale McGee. The decision didn’t pan out, as the Lakers immediately fell into a 15-1 deficit and trailed by as many as 21 points in the first quarter.
Ahead of hosting the Timberwolves on Thursday night, Walton revealed he pondered again starting Zubac at power forward. While the offense struggled, the third-year head coach felt the team simply didn’t have the necessary energy in their blowout loss at Target Center.
Walton did start Zubac, but at center. He pointed to the Timberwolves’ size and tenacity on the glass as areas the Lakers needed to be prepared for. They surrendered 12 offensive rebounds and 23 points off turnovers in a 108-86 loss.
“We had a challenge tonight and that was to be more physical and that was going to be a lot of work,” Walton said.
“It was going to be something that was going to take all five guys and we know that Minnesota is a bigger team than us, they’re a stronger team than us with what we have right now. The only way to win that physicality battle is to just bring it and outwork them. Unfortunately, we did not do that tonight.
“We did some things well tonight, but they had 34 second-chance points and  points off our turnovers. So, no matter what you do, you’re not going to give yourself a very good chance of winning a game when you shoot yourself like that.”
The Lakers held a lead after the first quarter and at halftime, but Walton believed there were missed opportunities to have more of a cushion. “We gave up 10 second-chance points in the first quarter,” he said.
“Let’s set the tone for the game. How do we do that? We rebound the ball. We were getting stops, guys were competing, but it’s about finishing off possessions. We talk about it. Every day we work on it; box-out fundamentals we’ve done the last two days knowing we were playing Minnesota.”
The loss dropped the Lakers to 1.5 games back of the Clippers for eighth place in the Western Conference standings. Although Rajon Rondo returned, the team is mired in a 5-10 stretch since Christmas Day.
“The message to the guys, though, is good because this is going to be hard. We need to become stronger, more mentally focused as the season goes,” Walton said. “I have all the faith in the world our guys will bounce back from this and continue to go down that path that we’re on, as far as getting better and playing toward what we want to be at the end of the season.”
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