Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

After a challenging stretch in their schedule, the Los Angeles Lakers come away having defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, lost to the Houston Rockets in overtime, and blown out by the Golden State Warriors.

Considering all of the circumstances, the Lakers young core showed growth by nearly winning two of the three games. In addition to still being without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, they lost Lonzo Ball in the third quarter of a hostile road game and didn’t have him Monday night.

While Los Angeles is 5-9 without their two leaders, head coach Luke Walton found some positivity after the team’s 130-111 loss to the two-time defending champions.

“I think the Warriors showed why they’re the champs. They’re starting to find their stride, not just against us but against the league. We keep talking about, ‘Alright, now we have injuries,’ and I think our guys have been really really playing hard,” Walton said.

“Going back to this last road trip, back-to-back overtime games against playoff teams. Tonight, we came out to play hard. We didn’t get the job done early enough and then once they found a rhythm, they’re near impossible to shut off.

“We did have some nice growth in the fact that we had Josh guarding Draymond and doing big-man coverages and Kuz on Klay early and having to guard shooters. These are things we’re going to keep looking for as a group while we trying to win games, while we try to get healthy.”

Through all of the highs and lows, the young core gained a lot of experience, which should help them in the second half of this season and beyond. Though the Warriors ultimately pulled away thanks to Klay Thompson’s historic shooting, Kuzma also saw reason to be encouraged.

“We hung with them in the first half. Sticking to the game plan, doing what we’re supposed to defensively, and offensively we were making the right pass and playing as a team,” he said. “We just have to continue to build good habits every single game. You can always learn something.”

While the Lakers have gone from fourth to ninth in the Western Conference since Christmas Day, they are only two games back of the Houston Rockets for fifth place.

With Walton more confident about Rondo returning against the Minnesota Timberwolves than James, they will soon be as healthy as they have ever been.

Although Ball is expected to miss four to six weeks with a Grade 3 ankle sprain, he should be ready to go when the Lakers want to play their best basketball of the season.

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