Revenge is a Dish Best Served…

In a blowout. With 6:40ish left in the game, coach Lue waved the white flag and pulled his key players. Scrubs finished it out in garbage time coach Walton used to drive him defensive pointers. End of the day, Julius Randle had a new career high in points and the Lakers won another game at home pushing their record there to 17-15. The Lakers won this game by totally dominating the second half of the game.

It started, as it has so very often recently, with Julius Randle. He scored 36 points from all over the court but did the majority of his damager around the rim. It’s easy to forget how much Randle struggled to score around the rim just 2 seasons ago but with his new ‘Hella Yoked’ physique he’s become an unstoppable force down low. He out quicked the bigs, and over-powered any small that came between him and the basket. He pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds and flirted with a triple-double by dishing 7 assists.

In that department he was only out-shined by Isiah Thomas and his dish of sweet, sweet revenge was served hot. While he only hit 2-7 from three he kept the Cavs defense off-balance to light a fire under the Laker half-court offense. His game-high 9 assist (many to Julius Randle) was just what the Lakers needed after struggling in the clutch against Denver and Portland. He also barreled his way to 5 rebounds. He and Julius are making great plays off each other in the half court. If Randle made strides in one area this upcoming summer it would be pick & popping better and setting better screens.

KCP continued a theme, playing well post-legal issues. While he may be good for at least one terrible pass/game (I mean mindbogglingly bad) his effort on defense and on the glass far outshines those gaffes. While he only pulled down 6 boards his activity creates opportunity and that’s all you can ask for on defense. An opportunity to seize. More often than not he creates the opportunity then gets to seizing it. KCP was on fire from deep hitting 4-8 making a lot of those off the pass to the benefit of his teammates.

Tonight saw Derrick Williams return to an NBA court, Travis Wear continue his return with some strong play in his 13 minutes and Lonzo (2-11) and Kuzma (4-14) struggle to score but not play defense or hustle. While some of the shine may have come off Kuzma’s game in the second half of the year, all that’s served to reveal is foundation of something stronger than chrome polish. He’s not hitting the three ball very well to close the season but he’s making plays for the team better than at any point in the season. Rebounding, too. Lonzo had a game reminiscent of the beginning of this year (that included a botched dunk) but his trademark hustle was on display all night and he played some great one-on-one defense, as well.

All in all it was nice to see the guys not let up. What is now becoming irksome is when they do let up and let a team back in. It can be said, unequivocally, that this Laker team knows how to win a basketball game against any opponent. When they take their foot off the gas, move away from the team game or stop hustling on defense it’s not a ‘young team’ issue, anymore. It’s pros not doing their job. Come camp next year, whichever of these young Lakers that remain will not be able to say ‘we’re a young team, figuring out how to execute down the stretch’. They know how, we’ve seen it several times this season. Sometimes in successive games.

That’s why Luke was losing his cool with the guys a little down the stretch. The kind of defense they were playing to close it out, blowout or no, was no the kind of effort he expects and certainly not the habit he wants to see formed. Especially from the starters. Anyhow, I think the question in regards to ‘are the Lakers going to keep Randle’ should now follow the question ‘how much does Julius Randle stand to make this summer?’ A couple months ago I couldn’t see a team offering him more than $12-14 mil ascending over 3 seasons (basically Dallas in a brazen attempt to juuuuuust go over what they think we’d be hoping to pay) to ‘will anyone offer him more than $20 mil…?’ I don’t think that’s too crazy.

It’s always nice when a player makes you question the way in which you view their game. I’m growing to appreciate more both IT Jr. and KCPs games and wouldn’t be too bummed if all we did this year was re-sign just about everyone (not Ennis) and go hard at Paul George my only question is will all our guys be willing to sign for a lot less than they could likely make somewhere else. I could see Houston trying to lure either Brook or KCP there if they whiff on LBJ (or choose to simply fill in the gaps around Harden and CP3 rather than building a bigger boat to accommodate the King). Dallas is expected to go hard at Randle, although we can match any offer. But in a game where continuity is one of the unheralded keys of success, how much sense does it make to go hard after a player not currently on the roster that isn’t a bonafide game-changer?

I’m as big a fan of Boogie Cousins as anyone on this blog and have been for several years now. If he becomes a Laker this off season I would be thrilled but would instantly wonder ‘great but at the expense of _____?’ Not getting ahead of ourselves (we won’t make the playoffs, after all) but signing Cousins for a rehab season in lieu of keeping a player of impact currently on the team is a more fragile equation than it may seem at first look. No matter what happens this summer the fact that the players on this Laker team have made it more of a conversation than has been had in season’s past. That’s a great problem to have. Go Lakers.

And, yes, I totally made a crappy .jpeg in MS Paint and tacked it to the top of the post.  (dancing banana emoji)