Although the Lakers rookies put up a strong performance, they were not able to close out against the Portland Trailblazers on December 23 nor the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 25.
Josh Hart was strong, leading with 10 rebounds in the 95-92 loss to the Blazers while forward Kyle Kuzma scored 31 points, but fell 121-104 against the Timberwolves on Christmas night.
Forward Julius Randle led the Lakers with seven rebounds. Guard Jimmy Butler and forward Taj Gibson scored 23 points each. Center Karl-Anthony Towns led with 10 rebounds.
Randle mentioned that the fervor of the team is constant, yet small details cause the team problems.
“We had a plan to keep them off the offensive glass; did a great job in the first half, second half, not good,” he said after the Timberwolves game.
With forward Brandon Ingram and guard Lonzo Ball out on injury, Hart and veteran guard Jordan Clarkson started in the Christmas game. This was the first start for Clarkson this season, the fourth for Hart.
Head coach Luke Walton considered Hart’s gameplay to be “tough” and “engaged.”
“He was attacking the paint. Obviously, his rebounding was one of the main reasons that he’s been earning extra playing time,” he said about Hart after the Portland game. “He gets in there and mixes it up, he can guard bigs and wings.”
Center Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Taj Gibson created an early momentum that Kuzma and Hart tried their best to counter. The Lakers entered the second quarter with a nine-point deficit.
Los Angeles put forth their strongest effort of the game in the second period, racking up 32 points compared to Timberwolves’ 24.
Minnesota unleashed a profound offense in the second half, the team scoring a collective 68 points. Los Angeles continued to compete in the third quarter, not allowing the Minnesota lead to surpass eight points. As the fourth period commenced the Lakers were down 80-83.
Their three-point deficit ballooned to ten after a three-pointer by guard Jamal Crawford with 9:40 left in the game. The former Clippers player scored 19 points in the matchup. Guard Jimmy Butler and Gibson countered the Lakers shots, securing their dominant gameplay as the regulated minutes ran out.
The Lakers also had problems closing out their game against Portland. Although six players scored in the double digits, guard Shabazz Napier and forward Maurice Harkless scored over 20 points each.
“I felt like they were ready to give us that game and we were not ready or willing to take it,” Walton said.
Clarkson and Kuzma rallied together for 18 points each, Hart grabbed 10 rebounds. Randle helped the Lakers secure an early lead, scoring six points in under six minutes.
The second quarter brought difficulty as Napier and guard C.J. McCollum combined for 17 points. Guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Clarkson fought back with seven points each; the Lakers still had control with a 49-44 lead at the half.
Napier had the most accurate shot in the third period, landing 3 of 4 shots from behind the arc and 3 of 5 field goal. The Lakers shot 12.5 percent in three pointers. This melted a nine-point Lakers advantage to a 70-point tie by the final period.
Portland went on a 6-1 run as the Lakers struggled with turnovers and fouls. In the last seconds, the Lakers were down by three. Caldwell-Pope missed a three-pointer, cementing the game at 95-92.
The Lakers will battle the L.A. Clippers on December 29 at 7:30pm.