(Reuters) - The unfancied Los Angeles Lakers, without a single All-Star player in their first campaign without Kobe Bryant for two decades, have been the early surprise package in this young NBA season.
In the absence of the retired Bryant, who was often accused of being a ball-hog during his stellar NBA career, the rebuilding Lakers have successfully adopted a truly democratic ‘pass, pass, pass’ mantra while posting a 5-4 win-loss record.
While they have not always made strong starts this season, they have generally been impressive in finishing off games — as they did on Thursday in erasing a 19-point deficit to beat the Kings 101-91 in Sacramento.
Lou Williams led the balanced Lakers with 21 points, 13 of them coming in the fourth quarter, while D’Angelo Russell added 17, Nick Young 16 and Julius Randle 15 as Los Angeles won for the fourth time in a five-game stretch.
The last time the Lakers strung together a similar hot streak was three years ago, when the team relied on Bryant for his closing ability and uncanny knack of draining game-winning shots.
“We’ve had a bad habit, even going back to preseason, of starting games slow,” Lakers first-year coach Luke Walton told reporters after an impressive comeback against the Kings.
“It’s just not acceptable. Our guys have proven that when they play hard and they’re engaged in what they’re doing, they’re capable of beating anyone on any night.
“So to come out and start games without that type of mindset is something we can’t live with. In the second half, we were more aggressive, and that’s when we’re at our best.”
Williams, Young and Russell combined for 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting in the second half, while the aggressive and often disruptive Randle was the catalyst, finishing with eight rebounds and five assists.
“Julius showed them,” Walton said of Randle. “Julius started to bring the fight. He kind of put the team on his shoulders.”
Following Bryant’s retirement that concluded a run of the three worst ever seasons for the Lakers, Walton appeared to be inheriting an unenviable task when he took over as head coach.
“The win streaks will come to an end and we’re gonna lose games too, but it’s nice to see this early in the season that they’ve already started to find some of that belief in what they can do as a group,” Walton said.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine