As LeBron James continues to miss intermittent time with his nagging ankle and Anthony Davis struggles to claw back to 100 percent following a lengthy sabbatical of his own, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a bit of a malaise. Losers of seven of their last 10 games and rapidly sliding in the Western Conference standings, the new narrative surrounding the early-season favorite to win the NBA title is a stern—but potentially fair—one:
Upon looking back on the last few weeks in Lakerland, as well as drawing comparisons to similarly banged-up title favorites of NBA lore (most recently and most notably the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors), the above quote does not seem all that farfetched. After all, in the 23 short months that James and Davis have suited up as teammates—and amidst all their shared success and notoriety—this recent stretch is unequivocally their bleakest.
Despite what the media circus surrounding their recent skid says, the Los Angeles Lakers’ hopeful ascent is not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when.
Overall, the Los Angeles Lakers have understandably struggled to stay afloat sans LeBron and AD. The offense has grown stale, stagnant, and slow (16th in assists per game and 20th in pace throughout this season). Watching the Lakers try to outscore opponents feels like subjecting yourself to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room at .75x speed with a Portuguese voiceover and Yugoslavian subtitles—the epitome of a never-ending, horribly confusing, “What the f*** is on my television right now?” experience. Perhaps a bit harsh, but in comparison to a LeBron and Davis-led offense, the Lakers’ current iteration is unquestionably a gross one. With Dennis Schroeder also set to miss the next two weeks due to COVID protocols, this description feels like it can only get worse.
Fortunately, the Lakers’ defense has been a different story, as they are statistically ranked the stingiest unit in the league. Having said this, it is reasonable as to why some cannot help but feel that the Lakers’ defense is more vulnerable than they have been in years past. As both the former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up (Davis) as well as one of the highest-ranked statistical defenders this season (James) work themselves into playoff shape by logging their first bits of shared action in over two months, it would make some sense to see a bit of a defensive drop-off from the defending champs.
On top of these possible weaknesses on both sides of the ball, the newly formed Lakers roster could soon find themselves in an awkward conundrum. The previously existing role players will have to take a step back after playing themselves into a comfortable rhythm without LeBron and AD, and the newly acquired role players have yet to share enough court time with the duo to work themselves into a comfortable rhythm with them. While the two gravity-shaping supernovas embed themselves back into a line-up that has missed their limitless talents for 57 combined games (and counting, given the fact that LeBron will miss more time in the coming weeks), any hope to build some needed chemistry before the postseason tips off feels challenging at best and impossible at worst.
For the first time in a long time, many are starting to believe that the Los Angeles Lakers—a team that seemed to have an answer for everything—look borderline answer-less. In their eyes, it is officially time to start worrying about the NBA’s defending champions.
I, however, do not subscribe to that train of thought, and nor should you.