The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled since LeBron James exited the third quarter of the team’s Christmas Day game with a groin injury. Despite four games at home, they have gone 1-5 with their lone win coming over the upstart Sacramento Kings.
Sunday’s 108-86 loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves was their largest loss without James and their third-worst loss of the season. And after the game, head coach Luke Walton called out his two former No. 2 overall draft picks, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, for what he perceived as a lack of effort.
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“They’re trying, but they’re young,” Walton said. “At some point, we need more passion. We need more fight. And that’s not scoring more. That’s more diving for loose balls, communicating loudly, grabbing [rebounds].
“Brandon had some really nice crack-back rebounds tonight that we can get out and run [from]. We need that all the time from him. So, it’s not just them, but it’s until we get healthy again, you’ve got to play in this league with some passion and fire. It’s hard to win in this league when you are healthy. So you need to double that effort when guys are down.”
Ball and Ingram need to pick up the slack
Making matters more complicated for the Lakers is the fact that they’re missing second leading scorer Kyle Kuzma (lower back bruise) and Rajon Rondo (finger surgery) on top of James. That has certainly led to a lack of scoring power with no player adding more than 14 points on Sunday.
This was supposed to be an opportunity for the team’s two rising stars to show what they can do without James pulling outsized weight. Instead, Ball went scoreless for the second time this season, and Ingram needed 15 shots to score 13 points.
“We weren’t physical enough,” Ball said. “That’s a big, strong team over there. I don’t think we brought the fight today.”
Ingram still looking for his role alongside LeBron
The Lakers made a concerted effort to hold onto Ingram over the offseason instead of trading him for an established star like Kawhi Leonard. Ingram is still looking to find his footing, however, even alongside James.
Both Ingram and James play best with the ball in their hand, although there’s obviously only one ball to go around between the two of them and whoever is playing point guard. That has led Ingram to actually play better when James is off the court.
With LeBron on the bench, Ingram sees improvements in true shooting percentage (up from .498 to .530), assist ratio (from 10.2 to 13.6) and rebound percentage (from 5.6 to 7.9 percent).
However, Ingram has not quite shined with the spotlight solely on him. During the six-game stretch he’s shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc with more turnovers (21) than assists (20) and nearly as many shots (102) as points (111).
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