LOS ANGELES – With the Los Angeles Lakers’ loss Tuesday to the Clippers, the Lakers (20-51) have only 11 games remaining this season. And while it may behoove them to lose as many games as possible to keep their top 3-protected pick, the team has other goals in mind down the final stretch of the season.
“I would like to see us build chemistry,” Lakers forward Larry Nance, Jr., said before Tuesday’s game. “Whether that results in a win or loss, I would like to see everybody playing towards one goal, everybody being unselfish, everybody playing with one goal in mind.”
The playoffs have been officially out of reach for only less than a week, but the team’s extended pattern of losses has led to the Lakers shutting down Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng – their highest-paid players – in order get give their young core as much playing time and experience as possible.
The Lakers are 2-16 in their last 18 contests, and have used four different lineups in their last six games. That could be why chemistry was a theme that emerged when players talked about their goals over the final games of the year.
David Nwaba, who inked a multiyear deal with the Lakers on Tuesday, said the team’s focus down the stretch of the season was “building chemistry, improving playing with each other” and learning to close out games. He also mentioned the desire for the young players to work on their games given their extended minutes of late.
“It’s just a learning process,” Nwaba said. “Older guys are sitting out and it’s just a good opportunity for the younger guys to develop their game as well.”
Nance said finishing the season on a high note can create momentum among the team, which could carry over into the start of next season.
“How you finish things always impacts how you start the next,” Nance said. “You pick up where you left off. So if we can finish this out strong – not in terms of a win-loss sense, (but) in terms of chemistry-bonding sense – going into next year, we’ll have a pretty good rhythm.”
Rookie center Ivica Zubac said he feels the team wants to see improvement and compete in the last 11 games, in addition to playing hard trying to win as many games as possible.
“First thing is we gotta compete hard,” Zubac said. “If we compete hard and play hard, everything else is easier. If we play hard on defense, offense will come.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he wants the team to play with freedom and enjoy the final games of the season, despite what the final scores are.
“In a weird way, it should be fun for our guys,” Walton said. “Obviously losing sucks, but at this point there’s no pressure. It’s about going out and playing basketball – a lot of our games our home games – in front of fans that love us, that appreciate effort, hard work, competing.
“We expect them to come into every game with that type of energy and excitement themselves and win or lose, at least continue to play that brand of basketball.”
Walton has used the same starting lineup for two consecutive games, but said he did not know if that would change.
“We might have lineup changes, we might not,” Walton said.