Hart's Spark Ignites Lakers' Resurgence in Dallas
Josh Hart gets it. Always has.
As arguably the savviest social-media user of the Lakers’ young core, the 23-year old guard was as aware of external noise as he was of his recent shooting slump.
The current rotation’s lack of experience. The inconsistency and the trouble closing out games. The record of LeBron James’ teams when the King was forced to be on the sidelines over the last few seasons. So on and so forth.
That’s why, when Luke Walton answered a question on Sunday about a lackluster performance from Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, his message didn’t go unnoticed.
“They’re trying, but they’re young,” Walton said after the 22-point loss to the Timberwolves. “At some point we need more passion. We need more fight. That’s not scoring more, that’s more diving for loose balls, communicating loudly. Brandon had some really nice rebounds tonight that we could get out and run – we need that all the time from him. It’s not just them, but until we get healthy again we have to play in this league with some passion and fire. It’s hard to win in this league when you’re healthy. You have to give double that effort when guys are down.”
Hart was a -17 at Minnesota after scoring 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting, and went into the Mavericks game having made just 25.6% of his shots – as well as four of his last 22 three-pointers – in three games in January.
The team, having lost five of their last six, needed a jolt of energy beyond the return of Kyle Kuzma (lower back contusion), as it would require an all-hands-on-deck effort to beat Dallas and stop the bleeding.
Enter Hart, who had a ‘quad-five’ in a career-high 44 minutes: 14 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and five steals (another career-high). The Villanova product led the team in minutes, boards, and swipes while tying Ingram in assists. He played the whole second half.
“We needed all those minutes from him,” Walton said.
Hart went back to the basics, crashing the boards, being a threat on the break, and jumping passing lanes, becoming an integral part of a defensive effort that held the Mavericks to 30 points in the second half.
“We needed a win,” he said. “I was frustrated the last three or four games with myself for how I played because I didn’t give this team energy and I didn’t give them a spark. That was the only thing I was going into this game thinking. I didn’t care about shooting, I didn’t care about making shots, if they went in, touches, play calls, nothing like that. I control what I can control, and that was my energy, that was being a little junkyard dog out there and just helping this team get a win.”
Hart also helped out on the perimeter, where he chased Wesley Matthews through a maze of picks…
Lakers come storming back with a strong defensive start to the second half.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) January 8, 2019
Josh Hart set the tone early by shadowing Matthews around several screens. All effort to contest this shot. pic.twitter.com/2mTcbFfmfT
…and even got revenge on Luka Doncic, who earlier had disabled him with a crossover before draining a step-back triple.
No shortage of energy on Josh Hart's part tonight.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) January 8, 2019
Another in-your-jersey defensive possession, this time on Doncic, leads to a 24-second violation. pic.twitter.com/RLjrs0Xpi0
He sure was proud of that sequence:
But they only show his filthy stepback... https://t.co/QB248qcvHf— Josh Hart (@joshhart) January 8, 2019
His outside shot still wasn’t falling, but that didn’t prevent him from helping the team in a myriad of ways.
This volleyball-style tap on a 50/50 ball, which led to a fast break dunk from JaVale McGee, illustrates his impact all over the court.
And when his shot did fall, well, it happened in spectacular fashion.
“It was just a good growing-up game," he told our Mike Trudell during his walk off interview.
Ingram (29 points and six assists) and Ball (21 points on 4-for-8 from long distance) rose to the occasion and met Walton’s challenge. But it was Hart’s intensity that set the tone, reminding everyone that the team has enough talent (and fire and grit) to survive any absence – even a LeBron-shaped one.
“We showed (that) when we lock in and our focus and our attention to detail is turned all the way up, we’re a good team, whether we have Bron, or Rondo, or whoever," Hart said.