The Los Angeles Lakers are full of surprises in 2016, of the good, bad and ugly variety. All three variations were on display Wednesday night in Chicago.
The Lakers clawed out a narrow 96-90 victory over the Bulls, their second win over a top Eastern Conference contender in a span of four days. The victory brought them back to .500 after a head-scratching loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, further adding to the confounding nature of the first quarter of the season for Los Angeles.
Always considered to boast a promising young core, the Lakers have taken surprising strides to insert themselves into the playoff picture in the Western Conference. But as with any team comprised mostly of young talent, growing pains are an inevitability.
On Wednesday, carelessness was primary area of frustration for head coach Luke Walton — turnovers more specifically.
Los Angeles committed a season-high 24 turnovers, including a handful of appalling mental lapses that could have easily been the difference in the game.
More troubling is the preventable nature of these missteps, a prime example of which occurred during a crucial stretch midway through the final quarter.
After Lou Williams connected on a contested floater to tie the game with 6:50 remaining, Julius Randle secured a defensive rebound that seemingly set the Lakers up with a chance to take the lead. Randle would proceed to turn and casually to survey the court, however, leaving a window for Rajon Rondo to poke loose a turnover. Seconds later, Rondo found a wide open Isaiah Canaan for a successful three-point attempt from the wing.
Sequences like this were a common occurrence throughout the evening, and if not for a heroic defensive effort, the Lakers would have undoubtedly found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout. Instead, the defense carried them to a unique benchmark — their first win of the season when held under 100 points.
“The 24 turnovers is tough,” Walton said after the game. “We had 17 assists and 24 turnovers. [The defense] was the only reason we gave ourselves a chance. That’s what we said last game in New Orleans, why you have to commit to defense, because there are going to be nights when you can’t get the ball to go in.
“But if you are committed on the defensive end, you always give yourself a chance to find a rhythm or a find a run and try to win a ballgame. That’s what happened for us tonight.”
For as atrocious as the Lakers’ ball security was at times, their defensive showing against the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference provided reason for optimism.
Randle dominated the boards, hauling in a career-high 20 rebounds to go along with 13 points, two assists and two steals. Brandon Ingram excelled in one of the toughest tests of his rookie season, forcing Jimmy Butler into an inefficient 4-of-18 shooting night. Despite scoring just eight points and shooting 1-of-9 from the field, it stands as one of the bright spots of his career to date.
Wednesday marked the 10th victory of the Lakers’ 2016-17 campaign. For reference, they did not hit the 10-win threshold until February last season.
Turnover woes will remain an issue as this group continues to grow, and several other areas of concern will continue to linger. But from a development standpoint, which is the primary metric by which the Lakers should be judged this season, there is no doubt they are heading in the right direction.