The Lakers lost again on Sunday, a 128-104 drubbing at the hands of the Nuggets. Without LeBron James and with Anthony Davis suffering/dealing/playing through a knee issue in the 3rd quarter, the Lakers hung tight for two quarters and then lost grip of the rope vs. a very good Denver team. I could get more into the details of that loss, but I won’t.
The game doesn’t need a recap. If you watched it, you know what happened. If you didn’t, count yourself among the lucky. I have no additional insight to offer, no angles that will turn on a lightbulb for you, no pithy comment to keep you scrolling down the page. The Lakers lost, it wasn’t great.
The Lakers have now lost 3 straight games. In Indy, they lost with LeBron playing, but Anthony Davis out. In Milwaukee, both played, but it did not matter. Against the Nuggets, as I said earlier, LeBron sat and Davis played. Kyle Kuzma also missed the Pacers and Bucks games, but returned on a 20 minute restriction for Denver. The relative health of the team aside, the Lakers have played hard, but not well. Add back in the health and, well, this team lost. It happens and while it’s frustrating in the moment, it’s understandable.
I expect there to be some concern around this team by outside observers. After losing 3 times in their first 27 games, the Lakers have now lost 3 straight. This, in and of itself, is a story. Doubling your season’s losses in less than a week is meaningful even if the circumstances deserve to be put at the front of the sentence rather than somewhere in the middle or end. I don’t expect the circumstances to be put at the front by a lot of people and that’s fine, honestly. We all have a story to write and this is mine.1I hope you’re still reading it, too.
To be clear, I too am an outside observer. So, yes, I too am concerned. The Lakers depend on their star players and they missed games not to rest, but because they were too banged up physically to suit up. The health of these players will dictate how far the Lakers go this season and the fact that they’re missing games matters.
To be fair, these do not look to be serious injuries and both are merely questionable for Wednesday’s Christmas Day game. That said, general health and the ability to forecast it for April, May, and, hopefully, June is truly important to every team, but particularly one constructed in the manner these Lakers are.
My other concerns lie with some of the team’s issues rearing their heads vs. good teams and during this recent streak. Coming into the regular season, the Lakers most identifiable roster shortcomings tied back to playmaking and wing defenders who could capably defend the bigger perimeter players who live on some of league’s best teams.
Well, against the Bucks, Giannis gave anyone not named Anthony Davis or LeBron James fits, particularly on switches.2He also gave LeBron and AD plenty of issues. And against the Pacers and Nuggets, the Lakers simply did not have the secondary playmakers and shot creators behind/in place of LeBron to capably boost the offense when it needed it most.
The result was the losses we’ve seen, losses that can be put into context of health and a long road trip and a bunch of other reasons that actually do matter. But, even when acknowledging that, the lingering angst of seeing some of the team’s preseason issues come to a head vs. quality opponents does give me pause. I just wanted…better.
In reflecting on all this, however, I do have to admit to an internal battle that I’m constantly trying to reconcile. On the one hand, the idea that your first conclusion on a subject can outlast contrary evidence over time is a real thing. Very early in the construction of this team, I had concerns about very specific areas and letting go of those concerns are hard. Seeing them come to a head in the games they have only serves to reconfirm my initial conclusions and multiplies those early thoughts.
On the other hand, the Lakers performance before these losses beats back and chips away at those concerns — or at least they should. Winning in this league is hard and the regular season success this team has had is impressive and should be taken on its face as meaningful too. When LeBron and Davis are healthy and unencumbered, this team is dangerous. Maybe as dangerous as any other team in the league.
I must say, though, it’s hard to escape the fact that I want the holes on this team to be resolved to put them in the best position possible to win at the highest level; to be able win a championship. Winning at that level is never full proof, of course. But I’d be lying if I said I thought this iteration of the team represents the best collection of skills — not players, but skills — to give them that chance. Can they do it? Of course! They have LeBron and AD. I guess I just want a few more bullets in the chamber; a more well rounded crew of role players to counter against the more hyper-focused gameplans of the playoffs.
In closing, and in getting back to the actual losses, the impact they have in the short term doesn’t really concern me at all. When the Lakers were rattling off wins to the tune of a 70 win pace just a week ago, one of the main benefits of that was the cushion it gave them to withstand a stretch like this in the schedule. Even after 3 consecutive losses, the Lakers still have a 3 game lead in the West. They have 4 more wins than the 2nd and 3rd place teams and 4 fewer losses than the 4th place team. It’s early in the season still, but stuff like that matters.
So, from this point of view, the Lakers are fine. They’ve banked wins and are remain one of the league’s best teams. Not just from a record standpoint, but from a functional roster one too. I just have a nagging feeling that, on that latter point, they’d be better off finding a way to upgrade in a couple of spots to give them a better chance when the post season comes.