For the Lakers this season must become less about Kobe Bryant’s extended farewell tour and more about developing their young players, even if it means living with sometimes rugged performances. Sometimes they’ll get some good ones: D’Angelo Russell’s 16-point performance was a bright spot Friday for the Lakers, who need to see more of him in crucial situations than Coach Byron Scott has played him so far.
If they’re going to lose — and they are, and often — it makes sense to give Russell and Julius Randle experience when games are close, not when the climb is steeply uphill. They didn’t come back into Friday’s game until late in the third quarter, but they were vital to a run that cut the Clippers’ 28-point lead to eight late in the fourth quarter and brought a grumpy crowd roaring back to life.
“We just competed,” Russell said. “We took it upon ourselves to compete a little bit harder.”
The Lakers will take any small progress.
“It’s a process that takes the whole year to really figure it out but you really want to break it down into little increments of month to month to see if guys are getting better,” Scott said of bringing along young players. “Sometimes they do and sometimes they take a little slide. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”
The Clippers had won nine of 11 games before losing three games in a row and then beating the Lakers on Friday. Note that Rivers said he liked his team’s record, not loved it. Turning “like” into “love” is a long way off. It involves not giving up 115 points to San Antonio, not allowing the bottom to fall out against Houston, and staying strong down the stretch against Oklahoma City.
“Probably about 10 wins in a row would help,” Rivers said. “Just more consistency, really. I thought in this stretch we consistently defended and then in these three games I thought we kind of fell off of that. The San Antonio game, we gave up a lot of points. The Houston game, let’s not talk about. Then the Oklahoma game, we couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter down the stretch.
“When we’re really good we get stops. I thought we had a stretch of that and then it went away and we have to get it back. And when we do that we’ll win games.”
Jamal Crawford, who scored 13 points off the bench, also said the Clippers haven’t played to their potential.
“We’ve shown moments of it. We’ve shown flashes of it but I’m not sure we’ve done it consistently. That’s the task at hand,” he said. “I think we just have to keep working. The more we work on it the more we improve, the more you get that chemistry. We’ll love it at the end of the season if we’re still playing in June.”
Rivers, who criticized the defense played by the reserves in the fourth quarter, insisted he wasn’t worried about the Clippers’ record.
“I’ve had some teams where I would be panicked now. I’ve had some teams where I’d go to sleep right now,” he said. “They’ll be fine. I think it depends on your team. This is a team that’s just a team in motion. Made a lot of changes. It takes time. I sleep well.”
Maybe not as well as he’d love to, though.