The two words almost sounded blasphemous as the Lakers heard the phrase uttered around their practice facility on Wednesday.
Plenty of explanations have emerged on why the Lakers (14-54) enter Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (18-49) at Staples Center with a patch of sub-par performances against sub-par teams (New York, Sacramento). But apparently the so-called “rookie wall” is not one of them.
“I don’t use those type of excuses,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “They come in every day and are willing to work.”
But the Lakers hardly looked like they worked in losses to the Knicks and Kings. They opened both first quarters scoring a combined 26 points on an 8-of-49 clip from the field. They looked lethargic only a week after pulling a shocking upset against the NBA defending champions (Golden State). They played without the crispness that ensured consistent play from the Lakers young core following the NBA All-Star break.
Yet, Lakers forward Julius Randle sounded just as dismissive as his head coach about the young core running into a block of concrete.
“What wall? I haven’t hit it yet,” said Randle, who has averaged 14.2 points on 49.1 percent shooting and 10.6 rebounds in the past five games. “I feel good.”
Instead, Randle attached the hiccups toward something else more tangible.
“Slow starts and not coming out prepared to play,” Randle said. “We looked at Golden State and knew we had to come out ready. Teams with less talent that we think we should beat, we may come out with a lackadaisical attitude.”
Whatever the case, it hardly matches the attitude the Lakers want to have even in a season destined for a third missed playoff appearance in consecutive seasons. With 14 regular-season games left, the Lakers still want to use that time to evaluate their core roster and instill optimism about the team’s direction both heading into free agency and next season’s training camp.
But perhaps easier said than done amid the deflated feeling over so many losses that seemingly pile up by the game. As Randle admitted, “The challenge is more mental.”
“They could be tired. But everybody is tired at this point of time in the season. So that’s no excuse,” Scott said. “One thing you can do better is take care of yourself and eat right and get proper rest and come ready to play. Game day is the biggest thing that day going on in your life. I don’t know if our guys are taking it that serious. They have to get to the point where they are.”