Without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, one major trouble spot for head coach Luke Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers has been their inability to close out games.
Despite having leads in the past four games, the Lakers have only won one as they struggled to adjust from previously relying so on James and Rondo in late-game situations.
As games slow down in the fourth quarter, the Lakers have become susceptible to a lack of ball and player movement, which has resulted in poor shot selection and turnovers. The latest occurrence was in a loss to Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Unlike the first two losses against the Sacramento Kings and Clippers, Walton believes the Lakers played well against the Thunder. “We were getting good looks. We just weren’t making them,” he noted.
Walton didn’t fault for players attempting to press matters with not only James and Rondo out but Kyle Kuzma as well as a lower back contusion forced him to an early exit.
“Not in a selfish way but in a competitive way, guys start to try to put more on themselves. Especially as the game gets down the stretch into the fourth quarter, it just naturally happens to players and teams,” Walton said. “What we’re stressing to our guys is that we have to continue to play fast.
“I felt it was similar to the game we lost in Sacramento, where we had this good pace going and then we’re getting stops. But then we stop pushing the ball the same way we had done in the first three quarters. It’s something we have to continue to get better at if we’re going to win some of these games while we have the injuries that we have.”
In late-game situations, it is natural for young players to resort to their old ways which is usually detrimental to the team.
After finding a balance between scoring and facilitating for certain stretches, Brandon Ingram admitted he went away from that formula when Kuzma was out and the Thunder’s defense began to collapse on him.
Although the Lakers have been competitive through all of the injuries, they need to keep pace in the Western Conference or risk missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
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