February 25, 2024

Here are the key takeaways from the worst loss of the young Lakers season, a 128-94 drubbing Wednesday in Houston:

Lousy from the start

The Lakers need to hope this is just a trend and not a fatal flaw.

After Houston became the latest team to pounce on the Lakers in the first quarter, they have been outscored by 74 points in the opening 12 minutes, the most by any team in NBA history for the first eight games of a season, per ESPN Stats and Info. That’s a wild number even for a team that’s trailed by 10 or more in the opening quarter six times already.

If that’s not bleak enough, no Laker has a positive first-quarter plus/minus. LeBron James is minus-43. Austin Reaves is minus-44. D’Angelo Russell is minus-49 and Anthony Davis minus-52.

“The game is always, in my opinion, won by doing the little things, the details, you know?” coach Darvin Ham said Wednesday. “Sprinting back in transition defense — that’s why we’ve been harping on that all year and will continue to harp on that. Being active. Helping your teammates out. Being great on the ball. And then getting hits and trying to come up with long, difficult rebounds and 50-50 balls. Just that.

“I thought in that first quarter tonight, in particular, and it’s been this way, the second-chance points that we give teams and the second and third opportunities, that’s been a little bit of an Achilles’ heel for us. That definitely has to get corrected.”

The Lakers have eased into games too often on both sides of the ball (more on that later), and the holes they’ve needed to climb out of virtually every night have made for a stressful start.

“They came out and played harder than us,” Russell said. “They made more shots. They got more shots. That was the result.”

Ups and downs from injuries

The Lakers weren’t making excuses, but they knew it would be a challenge without Davis.

“Every day, we have a different lineup, we play with different guys, new guys come in, kinda,” said forward Rui Hachimura, who returned after missing four games. “It’s almost like we have a trade every day, you know?”

Davis, who had to leave Monday’s game because of hip spasms, had hoped to play until he was a late scratch. The news dampened the Lakers’ mood after the team was able to get Hachimura through the last stages of concussion protocols.

“It’s a reality of the business, injuries,” Ham said. “We find out game time AD’s not playing. And so that shifts your lineup. It takes guys out of their normal role where they know they’d be coming into the game. So it’s an adjustment. The biggest thing for me is I’m proud of my guys. We’re trying to fight through this rough patch.”

It’s certainly affected any attempts at team-building.

“We can’t build cohesion if we don’t have our unit,” James said. “It’s that simple.”

The standstill

Maybe a lack of cohesion is the cause of the Lakers’ standstill, but the offense looked especially stagnant for most of Wednesday.

“Everybody’s trying to figure it out on their own,” Russell said. “Everybody’s trying to be assertive on what they can bring to the table and what they can do to help the team when a lot of it is ‘what can we do?’, ‘how are we going to do it?’, including myself. I think we’ve just got to find ways to play off of each other, have each other’s backs offensively and defensively and that’ll lead to some wins.”

To Hachimura’s credit, he was able to create his own offense by getting easy baskets off of hard rolls to the rim and cuts through the gaps created by the Lakers’ five-out spacing.

“Just pick and roll, I was just watching the game in the beginning, the first quarter, and I was like ‘It’s wide open.’ Nobody was in the paint,” Hachimura said. “That’s why I just did that. Naturally. That was my mind-set, especially with LeBron. He gets a lot of attention so I know I was going to be wide open. So that’s what I did. The cut part, that was DLo. DLo, actually, totally. He said everybody is just, like, standing. So just cut. And that’s what I was doing.”

The Lakers always will be built on isolation and pick and roll considering their personnel, but more movement will be crucial to getting things going on a more consistent basis.

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