LOS ANGELES - LeBron James apologized to Lakers fans, and the next night, Los Angeles suffered the No. 1 offense in the league in a 101-95 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday.
"I think there's a big lesson to be learned with this group that we are not getting anywhere without being a great defensive team," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after his team held Utah to 36.9% shooting. “Our guys finally locked themselves in and this is the No. 1 offensive in the league by a mile and we did a fantastic job in all phases.
"When we play like this, we know we can beat anyone. But it has not been consistent enough and there is a great lesson to be learned from this match."
It was tumultuous 48 hours for the franchise that led into the game. LA lost by 37 in Denver Saturday night, prompting Lakers legend Magic Johnson to fire a scornful tweet about the team's efforts. James atypically failed to speak to reporters after the Nuggets dubbing, instead tweets his apology next night and promised to get better.
"I did not like what would come out of my mouth," James said after extending his streak to 14 games with 25 points or more since Anthony Davis went out with a sprained MCL in his left knee. "So I decided not to talk to you."
James said he had no response to Johnson's criticism and that his message was aimed solely at fans.
"Just take the burden and tell the Laker Nation that," he said. "It was not about anyone; it was about our fans and the people who ride and die with us every single day. Let them know I got this and it would not happen again."
At least for one night, LA showed why Las Vegas bookmakers had the Lakers as the championship favorite on their way into the season. Only it was not only stars like James and Russell Westbrook who led the attack.
Stanley Johnson, signed on another 10-day contract on Monday, scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, helping LA storm back from a nine-point gap with less than 10 minutes left in the competition. He repeatedly challenged Utah's three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in the paint.
"LeBron is a smart player. So [when he says], 'Do it here', OK, I do it. 'Do this.' OK, I want to do that too, "Johnson said of the game plan." He saw something. I think if you watch basketball the last few years, some teams have had success with smaller guys like me attacking [Gobert] away from the jump, and the thing for me is to play with energy. "
It's one thing for 6-foot-7 Johnson to go on 7-foot-1 Gobert, but so did 6-foot-3 Westbrook. Westbrook threw a highlight-worthy tomahawk dunk down over the Jazz Center in the second quarter and got a technical error when he told Gobert about it.
"It gives us some svada that we need," said Westbrook, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and just two turnovers, on the thump. "Especially right now."
It had been a time of trial for LA, as they had only lost three games in a row on Monday, allowing the opponent to score 125 points or more.
Vogel, whose job security had at times been questioned this season, was again faced with speculation.
"Not seeing the results wears on you," the coach admitted before Monday's matchup.
Some of that anxiety was released early in the game when Westbrook grabbed a mop to clean up a spill on the sideline that had caused Utah's Donovan Mitchell to slip.
"I actually do not think it was a small incident," Vogel said of Westbrook's mop duty. "It was an example of, 'Hi, let's all let go of what we feel from a negative point of view, and the clouds that come with losing and all that. Let's let go of it and bring a positive spirit. '. "
It's hard to say whether sunnier skies are ahead for this Lakers team. Davis was evaluated by team doctors on Monday and was allowed to increase his training with contact on the pitch, while Vogel revealed that guard Kendrick Nunn, who has not yet played this season due to a bone blue mark in his knee, will be " delayed "in his debut due to how his knee reacts.
Who knows if they're out of the woods yet.
"I love the way we reacted today," James said. "Wednesday [versus the visiting Indiana Pacers] becomes another challenge for us.
"We'll see what happens."