Getting there this season with 20-year-olds Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball in the starting lineup might prove too much to ask, but as of Tuesday, the Lakers (8-12) were within one game of Utah (9-11) and Oklahoma City (8-11).The real tests are upcoming. December is the toughest month on the Lakers’ schedule, and it really starts Wednesday against Golden State. It’s the first of three games against the Warriors between now and Dec. 22, with three games against the conference-leading Houston Rockets (16-4) on tap before the end of the calendar year.Add in games on the road in Cleveland and Philadelphia, as well as home affairs with potential playoff teams such as Portland, Minnesota and Memphis, and it’s hard to imagine the Lakers still sitting within range of the playoffs by the end of December.“You don’t look at it like that,” Walton said. “That’s a daunting task if you look at it like that, we look at it like what are we going to do today? We’re going to control what we can and work the way our guys are becoming accustomed to working.”But Walton is not unaware of the challenges ahead.“We’re going to have some tough games,” he said. “There’s probably going to be some nights that don’t look too good for us. But there’s going to be some other nights that we’re fighting our tails off and we’re in those games and we’re competing at a high level.”NO RESERVATIONSWith players such as Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle hoisting questionable shots late in Monday’s loss, it was fair to wonder why Walton left rookie star Kyle Kuzma on the bench. A day later, the coach explained his decision.“I told him last night I thought his individual defense was not up to par to what we’ve come accustomed to with him,” Walton said. “We put our emphasis on defense this year. … The commitment to play guys who were going to get the job done on that end went into who would close the game.”Kuzma logged just 20 minutes in his first game back on the bench after spending 11 as a starter when Nance was out with a broken bone in his hand. Kuzma scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting.Instead, Walton went with Randle and Nance in the frontcourt, with Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ball around them.“Defensively, I thought that they had been the best group individually,” Walton said. He added he was “trying to find an offensive unit that was going to be able to score the ball and play the type of defense we need to close out a road win. That was the group I felt like gave us the best chance last night.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error EL SEGUNDO — Despite losing their past two games to teams with lesser records, the Lakers woke up on Tuesday to find they sat just one game out of the playoff picture.Absurd, right? It’s much too early, with 61 games and five months left in the season, to be thinking playoffs. And thinking playoffs at all might be foolish for this young Lakers team.But Larry Nance Jr. was not shy about saying that’s something the Lakers are using for motivation.“That’s definitely something I keep track of for sure,” the third-year forward said. “That’s something that I would love for this team. I think everybody here would love that for this team and I think that’s very realistic the way things are shaping up right now.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersNance said Coach Luke Walton talks to the team about reaching the playoffs and that it’s something players discuss within the walls of the locker room.“It kind of keeps us refocused,” Nance said. “After a tough last game, it’s easy to be upset about it, but the second we’re like, ‘There’s a bigger plan here, we’ve got to refocus on the eight seed, we can still get it,’ kind of brings you down to earth and kind of refocuses you a little bit.”The Lakers’ last two losses were to the Sacramento Kings and the Clippers, both teams beneath them in the standings (at the time). While the Lakers have shown an ability to play at a higher level for top teams, they have also been criticized by Walton for playing down to lesser opponents.“Those kind of mid-energy games that … are ones that we absolutely have to win if we have our eyes set on the playoffs,” Nance said. “That eight seed is wide open right now. Obviously we have to steal a couple of these coming up in order to be there.”Not since Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant starred for the Lakers have the Lakers qualified for the playoffs. That was five seasons and four head coaches ago.