The Los Angeles Lakers looked to have things under control as the NBA season neared its end. L.A. has gone 4-1 since bringing D’Angelo Russell back into the lineup with Malik Beasley, Jarrett Vanderbilt, and Mo Bamba to help boost a squad that was rather ordinary surrounding superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Their sub.500 regular season reflected that fact, as did James and Davis’s inconsistent availability as a tandem.
Thus far this season, the Lakers have played 62 games. LeBron and AD have played together in 28 of them. It is hardly a formula for L.A. championship hopes. According to Shams Charania, Davis will miss the Lakers’ next game against the Thunder on Wednesday night.
But things were improving! That is, until LeBron heard a pop. And now he’ll be sidelined for at least two weeks, depriving the Lakers of at least one of their two best players.
Nevertheless, for a brief moment against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night, it looked the Lakers may be able to weather the storm. Davis was dominating, taking advantage of a small Xavier Tillman Sr. and being a threat on the glass and around the basket. With James and D’Angelo Russell out, players like Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV were providing scoring punch, while the aforementioned Beasley and Vanderbilt were offering their own sparks of offensive productivity and defensive/rebounding grit, respectively.
Yet something strange occurred when the first half finished and the second half started. Anthony Davis continued to be a force, ending with 28 points (on 19 shots), 19 rebounds, and 5 blocks. But, those who supplied first-half assistance were unable to match what the Memphis Grizzlies possessed in the form of Ja Morant’s excellence or Jaren Jackson Jr.’s physical domination.
The Lakers outshot the Grizzlies from three-point range by about 20%, making 13 attempts to Memphis’ six. Los Angeles outrebounded the Grizzlies 56-47. Despite these advantages and a great performance from Anthony Davis, the Lakers fell by double digits.
There goes sorting things out. The questions seemed to alter after the solutions were purportedly revealed.
The Lakers committed 25 turnovers in the Grizzlies game, which is never good when scoring efforts lead to Memphis possessions, particularly in transition, where the Grizzlies excel. Nonetheless, AD was responsible for just 5 of those turnovers, which is more comprehensible given his use in the game and the significance of his presence than, example, the following –
• Dennis Schroder – 6 turnovers
• Austin Reaves – 4 turnovers
• Malik Beasley, Jarron Vanderbilt, and Lonnie Walker IV each had three turnovers.
That kind of irresponsibility from perhaps the people L.A. needs the most with LeBron James out who aren’t named D’Angelo Russell exacerbates the Lakers’ situation. They just need Anthony Davis to be extraordinary in order to re-enter the postseason picture in the Western Conference. Or for the “other guys” to be better than they were in the second half against Memphis.
To be honest, that’s not conceivable – and it’s also part of the Lakers’ issue. Ja Morant is a standout in this league. Desmond Bane (16 points/5 rebounds/4 steals/3 assists) and Xavier Tillman Sr. (made life tough for Davis, who was noticeably winded in the second half, while producing a double-double of his own) have yet to be addressed. It’s fantastic to have more depth.
Nevertheless, when rival team stars like Morant and Jackson Jr. go off – compared to merely a STAR in Davis sans James – the Lakers will have an uphill struggle on most nights.
That level of play was insufficient to save the Lakers from being overwhelmed by the Memphis All-Stars. Yet, although the Grizzlies are one of the league’s greatest teams, things do not get much easier with LeBron James out.
D’Angelo Russell will return before LeBron, which will undoubtedly help. Bringing guys like Beasley and Schroder back closer to their proper roles would enable them to avoid overextending themselves. Yet, Russell, although being a very talented NBA player, does not entirely replace the vacuum left by LeBron James.
So much of what the Lakers have been created to be is around the concept of what LeBron and Anthony Davis are together. Even at this late point in LeBron’s career, their collaboration should go down in basketball history. James, the NBA’s all-time top scorer, has shown that he is still among the league’s finest. Davis is also deserving of a spot on the list.
Yet, in the absence of LeBron – which Davis will be, one way or another – AD is forced to wear all of the Lakers’ championship-or-bust load weight. Other than Kevin Durant, trade deadline trades do not transfer that burden into the regular season. As time has passed, it is expected to be Davis’ Lakers, with LeBron as one of the league’s greatest right-hand men.
This hasn’t happened frequently this season, for reasons largely beyond Davis’ control. And when it comes to the ones that are, his own efforts and performance, they may not be enough to preserve the Lakers’ season.
Being both so essential and powerless to change the course of events for people who rely on you must be a difficult sensation.
And a lonely one at that.