Wednesday, January 17News That Matters

Lakers! Brandon Ingram showed off how much he has grown against the Warriors


Hi this is Tania Ganguli, the Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly Lakers newsletter.

We took last week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we’re back now with lots of catching up to do.

Wednesday night the Lakers did what they’ve grown accustomed to doing – they gave the Warriors a dogfight of a game. In each year of the Steve Kerr era, the Warriors have been a far superior team to the Lakers, but in each of those years, the Lakers have also stolen at least one win against the Warriors at Staples Center.

That almost happened on Wednesday night. Instead, the Lakers lost 127-123.

And while most of the players refused to admit their added intensity had something to do with their opponent, that was clearly the case.

And now, the Lakers enter an absolutely brutal stretch until the end of the calendar year. But before we get to all that, let’s talk Brandon Ingram.

Ingram has his best game

The 32 points (a career high) were one thing. The fact that his coach trusted him to go win a game for his team on a play that required him to drive to the basket was another entirely.

Ingram had a lot of trouble with finishing at the rim last season. Part of that was his lack of strength. Part of that was because he didn’t quite know how to take advantage of his long arms. This season, though, as he has grown stronger, tougher and smarter, Ingram has done a terrific job getting to the rim.

“I just go in there with confidence, try to use my length over the bigs,” Ingram said. “Of course just trying to make the right play for my team.”

Ingram was asked if his added strength helps him in that part of his game. He said it does and that he thinks he can get much stronger.

Ingram did really well attacking the rim against the Warriors, and that was a big part of why he was so effective. He even impressed Kevin Durant, the player to whom he gets compared a lot from inside and outside the organization. (The Lakers have Brian Keefe working with Ingram individually – the same assistant coach who worked with Durant early in his career.)

Luke Walton made a good point after the game. He said that toward the end of last season, Ingram started playing really well against some of the high-profile wing players he faced.

“That’s what you want from your young players,” Walton said. “The first time around they normally get punked by the all-stars. Then the second, third time, they get a little more comfortable then they’re excited about the challenge. I thought B.I. did a great job of accepting that challenge and performing tonight.”

Since last we talked

-Lonzo Ball got a haircut.

–The Lakers lost to the Clippers in a game that was completely winnable for them. Some late-game mistakes and offensive stagnation contributed, and Walton had to answer for some of the lineups he was using. For example, neither Kyle Kuzma nor Jordan Clarkson, both of whom played extremely well that day, were part of the Lakers’ closeout group for the most part. Kuzma entered the game with 48 seconds left, but didn’t have a big role in the closing minutes. Walton said he kept Kuzma out at the end as a reaction to the way Kuzma had been playing defense. He said he had a conversation with the team about supporting each other rather than spending too much time upset about playing time.

–In a comeback victory against the Chicago Bulls (currently one of the worst teams in the NBA), Lakers forward Julius Randle got a tantalizing taste of what it’s like when he plays with center Brook Lopez. I dug into the numbers on just how well that pair works together.

–A few weeks ago, Kuzma’s mother got to attend a regular season Laker game for the first time. And she got to see her son start in an NBA game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The next day, I flew to Detroit and drove to Flint, Mich., to spend some time with Karri Kuzma while she took me around her hometown to give me a taste of what her son’s life was like. I tried to take readers inside the YMCA gym, which Kuzma said was his favorite place in the world. I met guys at the gym he’s played pickup games with. And I also learned that one thing the Lakers liked best about Kuzma in their pre-draft research was his spirit.

–Our Bill Plaschke believes in Lonzo Ball. He watched Ball on Wednesday against the Warriors and learned something about where Ball is in the development of his offensive game. There’s a note in this column, too, about how well Ball has been shooting in practice today. Perhaps on an unrelated note, Walton told Ball before Wednesday’s game that he was going to be one of the best point guards in the league one day. “Embrace the challenge. If you’re open and in a rhythm, let it fly,” Walton said.

Larry Nance Jr. healed from his hand injury and returned to the starting lineup. Nance’s defensive intensity and nonstatistical contributions are what the Lakers were hoping to add back into their lineups, and he felt like he got that.

Coming up…

Remember that brutal stretch I mentioned? Before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, the Lakers will play the Warriors two more times, the Rockets three times and the Cavaliers in Cleveland once. Any opportunity to get close to a win is one they must relish and seize because none of it will be easy

Schedule

(All times Pacific)

Saturday at Denver, 6 p.m.

Sunday vs. Houston, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday at Philadelphia, 5 p.m.

Until next time

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I’ll come right to your inbox. Something else you’d like to see here? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter @taniaganguli

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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