The Lakers got a much needed win on Wednesday night, outlasting the Pelicans down the stretch of a game that was closer than it needed to be and, really, should have been. The Pelicans play hard, but even a generous viewing of their organizational predicament must be viewed through the team’s obvious incentive to lose games to better their draft position in the hopes of securing a good enough talent in June to buttress whatever return from the inevitable Anthony Davis trade that will come in July.
That’s what leads us to Davis not playing a single 4th quarter minute and Alvin Gentry (who I like a lot) throwing out a lineup without Jrue Holiday or Julius Randle playing when the game was within 6 points with only 6 minutes left to play. The optics are just bad. But I digress.
So, the Lakers beat a team that should be (if not outright is) tanking. On the one hand, good for them! The Lakers need to try to get to 45-46 wins on the season and however insurmountable that looks right now, wins like Wednesday’s matter. The team should feel good about it, especially in the wake of the losses to the Grizzlies and this same Pels team in last week.
On the other hand, wet blanket analysis critique be damned, the Lakers still are not playing well and that is a problem. Their defense stinks. The majority of their role players are still not cutting it. Their offense is still a confusing hybrid of read principles interlaced with isolation inclined, ball holding players who seek out the singular play they, personally, can make over intentionally moving the ball on to trigger a sequence that can generate the looks that develop organically.
Blame who you want here, there’s plenty to go around.
But as I reflect on this all, I wonder whether this team has one last kick in them and my instinct is to say yes, they do. And I say this without much in the way of tangible or intangible evidence. Maybe I still believe in LeBron that much. Maybe I look at Brandon Ingram’s recent run and think “this is a guy who can make a difference.” Maybe I see Kyle Kuzma and believe his combination of want and skill set will inch this team forward.
Maybe I’m too optimistic. Or maybe it’s all the above.
All the uncertainty concerns me, of course. Lonzo Ball is still not doing basketball activities. And when Reggie Bullock, who was just traded for, is suddenly your 4th best player (or at least the 4 most reliable possession to possession) it does not inspire a bunch of confidence. When this team was at its best, JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler were a difference making tandem in the pivot, Rondo was a more reliable option (while being appropriately slotted as a reserve behind Lonzo), and Josh Hart was healthy and contributing more than one shift a game. KCP and Lance have been fairly up and down all year, so any positives they brought was gravy and their roles could be minimized if need be.
Now, though, it’s all hands on deck and the Lakers will need at least 2 of the aforementioned cluster of role players to perform at or above their career norms on any given night to give this team a chance. If they can get just that — and keep the LeBron/Ingram/Kuzma trio rolling — they can win even while being this flawed. Maybe that’s too much to hope for and maybe I’m a fool for thinking they have it in them. But this team has 21 games left and I still think they have a run in them.