Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 115-110 loss to the Bulls:
1. Moral Victories?
We were left to guess what LeBron James thought about how the Lakers fared without Anthony Davis on Sunday night (he didn’t speak to reporters postgame), but he probably wouldn’t have had the same disposition as some of his teammates, who merely seemed relieved to have this trip come to an end.
“Unfortunately we didn’t win, but I felt like we got better today,” said Trevor Ariza, calmly.
On the one hand, this isn’t a team built for its current hover-around-.500-brand of mediocrity. It was constructed with some of basketball’s biggest names to win a championship — or at least consistently compete at a high level. And things like 20 turnovers, eight missed free throws and 16 allowed offensive rebounds shouldn’t be met with a shrug.
But on the other hand, this trip has been a total disaster and probably just needed to be survived more than anything else. Players have gone in and out of the NBA health and safety protocols. The Lakers lost multiple coaches and even two broadcasters. They watched Davis get hurt. Again.
And they played a fun brand of basketball that had them in a great spot to win against one of the best teams in the NBA.
It’s kind of nuts that something like that is even worth noting with this team, but after lifeless losses, such as the one to Minnesota on Friday, this counts as progress as they move ahead.
Whether or not Frank Vogel will remain on the sidelines has been one of the big questions this season, with people looking to blame someone pointing fingers at the Lakers’ championship coach. In the short term, though, the questions are about the NBA‘s protocols.
Vogel entered the protocols Sunday morning (along with shooting guard Kent Bazemore), forcing him to offer his input via text message to fill-in coach David Fizdale at halftime.
“We came into it understanding that these are not normal circumstances,” Fizdale said. “And everybody wrapped their mind around it coming into the game. You had a backup coach, we had a G League guy out there, a couple G League guys. But you know, the thing about this team’s character is it’s just a next-man-up mentality and they really brought the effort and a collective team energy.”
Vogel is asymptomatic and team officials didn’t say where he watched the game or when he’ll be able to return to Los Angeles.
Fizdale, who coached the Grizzlies and the Knicks, said he wasn’t thinking about how long he’d need to stay in the big chair.
“Whatever Frank needs from me I’m going to do whatever it takes to the fullest, gonna give these guys everything I got and I don’t get too far ahead,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned over my travels now in my ups and downs is just control what I can in the moment, and that’s all I’m gonna do.”
3. What could’ve been
It’s impossible to watch the Bulls and not think about players the Lakers had and others they could’ve had.
Alex Caruso, unsurprisingly, was terrific as a complimentary player — making an impact on the glass before getting hot from deep. He finished with 17 points and nine rebounds while helping shoulder some of the burden in defending James.
Lonzo Ball went 3-for-9 from deep — not his best night — but the comfort and confidence he’s shown as a spot-up shooter is a testament to his work and improvement.
And, most painfully, DeMar DeRozan — one of the Lakers’ targets last summer before the team dealt for Russell Westbrook — destroyed the Lakers from mid-range and the free-throw line. He scored 38 points and just one of his 17 free throws.
4. Ariza steps in
Trevor Ariza was able to make his debut this season for the Lakers, playing 15 minutes off the bench and making his only shot — a catch-and-shoot three. He missed the Lakers’ first 30 games after ankle surgery.
“Circumstances happened with our team,” Ariza said. “I wanted to play. I’ve been wanting to play. I got cleared today to play. And I was able to get out there for a few minutes.”
Fizdale said it was a boost to have Ariza back in the rotation.
“Really it was just getting him back on the court, that’s just sweating, hitting, cutting — all of the good stuff. For him to see the ball go in was huge,” Fizdale said. “He’s gonna add a ton of versatility for our team as he gets stronger and gets his conditioning up. . . .
“That’s gonna be a nice knife in the shed for coach — to be able to go to Trev for late-game situations and be able to switch stuff and put him on different people that have a scoring ability.”
5. Still not the bottom
That all being said, it could’ve been worse.
Davis could’ve needed season-ending knee surgery, and he didn’t.
“AD, he’ll be back and we want him to get back healthy so we can have our full team. But until then, we’ve got to hold it down,” Westbrook said. “…Yeah, man, it’s tough. . . .
“I’ve been there and I understand the emotional state. You just try to keep uplifting them, staying positive, talking to him, trying to make sure he wins each day so he can get back healthy.”