The losing became too unbearable. The Lakers lost their primary scorers and shot creators through absences both prolonged (Kobe Bryant) and temporary (Nick Young). Evidence suggested the endless spiral of negativity will not end soon.
But with the Lakers treating the remainder of their 2014-15 season with hopes to avoid becoming the worst team in L.A. franchise history and develop future talent, Wayne Ellington provided a case study on what a player’s potential can become when given an opportunity.
The Lakers outcome may have stayed the same, their 98-92 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday at Staples Center marking the first time the franchise lost nine consecutive games since the 1993-94 season. Yet, Ellington’s career-high 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting, three assists and three steals as the Lakers’ starting shooting guard highlights a jack-of-all-trades effort partly because of a simple mindset he carried once he stepped on the floor.
“I made up my mind that I’m going to come out aggressive,” Ellington said. “We’re a team that needs to be hungry.”
It did not take long for Ellington to put his words into action.
In the Lakers’ second possession, Ellington drove the lane and cashed in on a seven-foot floater. Nearly three minutes later, Ellington converted on a four-point play by sinking a 26-foot three-pointer and the subsequent foul shot. On the next possession, Ellington grabbed a defensive rebound and finished coast-to-coast.
Once the Lakers headed to the locker room with a 57-46 half-time lead, the Ellington-Jordan Clarkson backcourt outscored the Wizards’ John Wall-Bradley Beal tandem, 33-18.
“This is an opportunity to be aggressive and leave it all out there and help the team win,” Ellington said. “That’s my attitude.”
Reality would eventually catch up to the Lakers.
Wall would post a near triple-double with 21 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. The Wizards boasted four other players cracking double figures, including Beal (19 points), Otto Porter (12) and Marcin Gortat (11). The Lakers shot only 7-of-19 in the third quarter that Scott said “was basically the game.”
Ellington would later say “it’s not easy at all” to deal with all the losing. He also reported that he told his teammates afterwards “we got to be hungry.” But Ellington has actually handled this season’s circumstances just fine by showing that very hunger.
He has stomached the frustration of a losing season. Ellington returned to the Lakers after taking only a two-week leave of absence two months ago to grieve and spend time with family after his father was murdered near his hometown in Philadelphia. After entering training camp on a non-guaranteed contract, Ellington earned a fixture in the rotation both as a reserve and the Lakers’ starting shooting guard whenever Bryant rested.
“He just played well,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “He plays hard. He’s not going to do anything to hurt you. He’s going to go out there and compete every single night.”
Ellington showed that in various ways.
He converted in transition both on a one-handed dunk and a reverse layup after forcing a turnover. Ellington calmly sank catch-and-shoot three-pointers, going three of nine from the perimeter. He also moved off the ball, dribbled with a purpose and then stopped to pull up for open jumpers.
“He’s just out there playing his game,” Lakers guard Jeremy Lin said. “We’re trying to feed him. He created shots for himself by creating steals as well and getting into the passing lane and being in the right place. I thought he played an all-around good game.”
After spending his five-year NBA career bouncing around stints in Minnesota (2009-2012), Cleveland (2012-13), Memphis (2012-13) and Dallas (2013-14), Ellington believes he has found a home with the Lakers. Outside of his career-high 10.4 points per game average with Cleveland incidentally under Scott, Ellington believes he has received the most opportunities here.
“It builds confidence man,” Ellington said. “I know what I can do. I work hard. It pays off in getting the opportunity to show what your hard work does.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org