The Los Angeles Lakers broke a two-game losing streak on Tuesday, beating the Chicago Bulls 107-100, but more importantly may have saved their coach’s job. Luke Walton was rumored to be on the way out if his team couldn’t defeat one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams.
The team has been without its star LeBron James, who injured his groin in a Christmas Day victory over the Golden State Warriors. Since then the team, which is also missing veteran guard Rajon Rondo with a hand injury, has gone 4-7.
Two of those seven losses came during recent home games against two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers lost on Jan. 4 to the New York Knicks, 119-112, after they were six-point favorites to the 10-33 Knicks, who have the second-worst record in the NBA.
Nine days later they hosted the worst team in the league, the 9-35 Cleveland Cavaliers. James’ old team was getting 10.5 points, but didn’t need them, handing Los Angeles an embarrassing 101-95 defeat.
“As a team, we gotta step up and go out and take some of these games,” Walton said. “We had plenty of chances to really try to get back over the hump, but we just didn’t do it.”
Changing Lineup Amid Firing Rumors
The losses clearly frustrated Walton, who had seen his squad defeat Detroit and Dallas in between those losses. After the Cleveland beating, Walton told reporters he hoped it motivated them.
“It’s a game we knew was very important to us,” Walton said. “(The frustration) should be pretty high. Hopefully, that’s an anger that stays with us for a few days.”
Just in case it didn’t, Walton made some changes to the lineup, in hopes of shaking the team up before Tuesday’s Chicago game. Before the game, Walton talked about his job status.
“I don’t think about it,” Walton said. “I focus on what is important and what’s important to our team is getting better.”
Expecting Better Results
Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson was mum about considering any coaching changes, but that was not the case earlier in the season. After the team began the year 3-5 Johnson called Walton into his office to chew him out about their performance, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“During their meeting, Johnson shouted and cursed at Walton,” the paper wrote. “At one point he chided Walton for interrupting him. He wanted to see an offensive system that had yet to be implemented.”
Both Johnson and Walton downplayed the meeting, despite reports that it got heated.
“I said it, Luke took it and we’re all good. It’s no big deal,” Johnson told the LA Times in November. “He’s going to finish the season. Unless something drastic happens, which it won’t.”
Walton was already the favorite by betting site Bovada to be the first coach fired. They had him at 7/4 to lose his job first. Second choice, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Tom Thibodeau at 2/1, was actually the first coaching casualty. He was first to go, fired by the organization on Jan. 6. Ironically it was after a 108-86 victory over the Lakers.