Before you can escape the exhaust fumes of the coaches idling in the Ball Arena’s loading dock, a sign reminds you of what your lungs already know.
“The Mile High City” reads the welcome sign. “Altitude 5,280 feet.”
Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Nuggets, folks around the Lakers organization were still trying their best to view their team from that distance — the focus on the broad principles and big picture still outweighed the grisly details. But with every passing play, every failed jump and every flinch, the pressure to realign that focus mounts.
With Russell Westbrook on the bench injured, the team had to make some of the changes that so many fans and pundits had been calling for… and nothing really seemed different.
The rims still seemed to shrink whenever the Lakers made a shot, the talent gap seemed to slant too far in the opponent’s favour, and for safety, Anthony Davis winced and reached down into his lower back as Denver began to pull away.
The Nuggets beat the Lakers 110-99, the team losing for the fourth straight game to start the year. Only the Orlando Magic and the Sacramento Kings also remain without a win.
The Lakers were better from three-point reach despite having to heat up to 26.7%. And their defenses, which they’d held in games against the Clippers and Trail Blazers, unraveled in the third quarter as Denver extended their lead to double digits.
They had a chance to reduce the Nuggets’ lead, which went to 18 in the third, to five in the fourth quarter, but LeBron James missed a layup and Denver responded with a three to get back to 10.
Later in the fourth, when James was complaining about a no-call, Ham stormed onto the court and was called to a technical.
The Lakers play again in Minnesota on Friday.
Westbrook slightly participated in the team’s shootaround Wednesday morning in Denver, firing free throws and three-point shots before Ham officially ruled him out before the game.
“We’ve talked about it over the course of the couple of days and talked about how to approach it, what would be the best strategy.” Ham said of Westbrook’s hamstring. “We’ve all come to the conclusion that it’s early in the season and there’s no reason to prolong it or put him in a vulnerable position and just take it from day to day. We have all decided he will be out today.”
Ham and the Lakers formed Austin Reaves in his place.
“It’s another basketball game,” Reaves said. “Try to play the game correctly whether you start or not. I’m just trying to help the team succeed.”
Ham had toyed with Westbrook coming off the bench in the team’s pre-season final – Reaves started that game – but the experiment ended after five minutes when Westbrook retired with a hamstring injury.
Westbrook later said the change in routine by coming off the bench helped the former MVP pinch his left hamstring.
Westbrook played well in the team’s season opener before struggling offensively in the second and third games of the season, only turning up the volume of his awkward situation within the organization and among Lakers fans.
Davis backed Westbrook on Tuesday, and in the team’s shootaround on Wednesday, former Warrior Juan Toscano-Anderson named Westbrook one of his all-time best teammates.
“Before I met Russ, I didn’t really like Russ. And I think a lot of people have that kind of lens over Russ just because it’s so competitive. From the short time I’ve known Russ – and I’ve had a heck of a lot… I’ve had some great teammates – Russ is probably in my top 5, top 3 teammates I’ve ever had,” he said. “He’s an amazing teammate and an amazing person. And at the end of the day, I played abroad for five years before I made it into the NBA, so I kind of have one [broad view]. I can differentiate between NBA life and real life. He’s not perfect. He is human. And I think people forget that.
“Or people think, ‘Oh, you’re making all this money and you’re playing this professional sport, you should be deaf to these things.’ In reality, that’s not true.”
At the very least, Wednesday’s performance in Denver was a reminder that the Lakers’ troubles extend beyond Westbrook, who was part of a team that still struggles hard as a group.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-10-26/lakers-nuggets-nba-recap Russell Westbrook sits out in Lakers’ loss to Nuggets