The Los Angeles Lakers have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. And with just eight games to go in the regular season, the team is looking for ways to stay motivated through the stretch run.
Forward Brandon Ingram, who just returned from a groin injury that’s kept him out since March 1, said he felt somewhat disappointed that the team could no longer make the playoffs. But despite that, he and the rest of the Lakers are focusing on how they can keep their momentum going over the final eight games of the year, seven of which are in Staples Center.
“I didn’t lose sleep over it,” Walton said of being eliminated from the playoffs at Wednesday’s shootaround. “I’ve said all year: It’s about the journey we’re on and where we’re trying to get to. Obviously we wanna make the playoffs, but it’s part of the reason why we don’t talk about it all the time. Because now that we haven’t made it, we still have other goals we’re trying to reach and we still have other things we’re trying to do. I would expect our players to come in and play just as hard even though we can’t make the playoffs now.”
One of those goals is to get back into the top 10 in defense since the All-Star break. The Lakers currently sit 12th in that time span, Walton said. Some of the players had broader goals for themselves and the team.
Forward Kyle Kuzma said the team wants to continue building good habits, chemistry and camaraderie, while also focusing on playing good defense. The team’s mindset, he said, is win all the games down the stretch.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Kuzma said. “Just trying to keep building and pushing the envelope and really trying to build that winning culture again. We’ve done a great job of winning a lot of games this year that in prior years we probably wouldn’t have won from a record standpoint.”
The Lakers currently sit at 33-41. This will be the fifth consecutive season the team does not make the playoffs.
Ingram looked at not making the playoffs with a positive spin, focusing on the team’s growth throughout the course of the entire season. The Lakers have dealt with a slew of injuries and a midseason trade.
“When you look at the overall season of where we started and where we are right now, you kinda think about how successful it was,” Ingram said, “especially with the young guys that we have and how everyone got better coming into a different system, learning how to play with each other. I think over timespan, we’ve figured out how to win some of these games.”
With their 33 wins, the Lakers reached the 30-win mark for the first time in several years. Should they win all eight games, they will finish with a .500 record, which could still theoretically happen.
But whether or not Los Angeles closes the season out with a bang, Walton said it will have no bearing on how the team will go into next season.
“It’d be nice to go in there with a little bit of momentum,” Walton said. “But one way or the other, it’s not gonna effect how we start next season. We’re gonna have a lot of time in here to grow and get better and we’ll be ready to start next next season whether this one ends good or bad.”
Brook Lopez said after Wednesday’s win over the Dallas Mavericks that the team actually can use the last eight games to jumpstart itself heading into next year.
“We just have to continue to build,” Lopez said. “Obviously we don’t wanna take any steps back in these eight games. We wanna continue the success we’ve had all season and keep building that foundation.”