MINNEAPOLIS — After a 108-86 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped the Los Angeles Lakers to 1-5 without LeBron James this season, Lakers coach Luke Walton said he wants to see more fire from his team’s two former lottery picks, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, as they try to make it through James’ absence.
“They’re trying, but they’re young,” Walton said of Ball and Ingram, both just 21 years old. “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 until we get healthy again, you 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.”
Aside from James, out with a groin injury, the Lakers were also missing Rajon Rondo (finger surgery) and Kyle Kuzma (lower back contusion) and got off to a disastrous start, trailing 26-5 midway through the first quarter.
It didn’t get much better for Ball, who finished without a point on 0-for-4 shooting, six rebounds and four assists, or for Ingram (13 points on 5-for-16 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 turnovers), as the Lakers never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
“I talk about it with them all the time,” Walton said when asked if he’s been able to connect with the former No. 2 picks when they are disengaged. “There’s no secret to it. As far as finding that way, I can find it with a lot of people. I don’t have the exact answer on those ones yet. But I also have all the belief in the world in them that they’ll figure it out and they’ll get it going. So, they know that we need them, and they’ll get it going for us.”
Ball did not disagree with his coach’s critique.
“We weren’t physical enough,” Ball said. “That’s a big, strong team over there. I don’t think we brought the fight today.”
It was Ball’s second scoreless game of the season and his first since a 130-117 loss to the Orlando Magic.
“We’re down a lot of scorers right now,” he said. “I’ve got to pick up that load. Obviously I didn’t do it tonight. I got to pick it up tomorrow.”
The Lakers finish off the second night of a back-to-back on the road against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. Again, they will be without James and Rondo, while Kuzma’s availability is considered to be a game-time decision.
“I always feel like I can do so more, so if that is my frustration then I’m frustrated,” Ingram said. “But I’ll just go back and watch film and get prepared for the next game.”
Lakers center Tyson Chandler — the team’s most vocal veteran presence with James and Rondo back in L.A. during the road trip — was disappointed in how his team has approached games recently. The Lakers also trailed the New York Knicks by 17 points in the first quarter Friday en route to a 119-112 loss.
“I think we’ve got to have a little more sense of urgency when we step on the floor and just compete, to be quite honest,” Chandler said. “I think with the other guys out, things are different clearly, but that being said, we’ve got to fight, because if we fight more, then when those guys come back it makes the transition a lot easier. …
“Competing. Competing in every spot, competing for every minute. Competing at every possession, we can’t afford to take possessions off at this point. We’ve got to make it a dire situation. We’ve got to play that way.”
Walton changed up the lineup Sunday, starting both JaVale McGee and Ivica Zubac together in the front court to try to combat Minnesota’s size. The last time the Lakers played in Minneapolis, the Wolves gathered 20 offensive rebounds. The lineup started 0-for-8 from the field before Walton made a substitution.
“From a team and what we’re trying to do and where we’re at now as a group, there’s not much to hang our hat on tonight,” Walton said. “We got to be better. We can’t play like that. You compete whether LeBron is on the floor or not on the floor, if Rondo’s with us or not. That type of effort won’t get the job done.”
Lance Stephenson, who said he wants to shoulder the leadership of the team while the Lakers are undermanned, offered an optimistic outlook.
“I think we still good enough to win games,” he said. “We just got to believe that. I think our guys don’t believe that right now. We’re letting the excuse of the guys being out affect us. I think we could win with what we’ve got right now. … Right now is our down time. And I think we’re going to go on a run. I think we got to stay positive and confident in each other and this group that we got right now.
“No excuses and just play basketball, man. I think the guys just thinking too much; we just got to play.”