The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, a loss that left LeBron James questioning how badly his teammates really want to win at a high level, and whether or not they are focused enough on the basketball court.
It was quite the passive-aggressive rant, and worth reading in its entirety, even if it must be noted that his younger teammates actually played solid basketball — it was the non-James veterans who weren’t good in New Orleans — as well as that James telling teammates to focus on basketball the week he announced a bunch of new information about “Space Jam 2” is sort of rich.
That’s not to say James is wrong to have off-court endeavors. That’s great for him, and all players should take advantage of those opportunities. It’s just to say that some of the implications he made felt slightly tone-deaf.
One thing he said that didn’t ring a little hollow, though, was James’ acknowledgement that this team has faced very real adversity, and that while not making the playoffs would still undoubtedly be a disappointment, there has been legitimate road blocks to the postseason that might ultimately do the Lakers in (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“I knew (joining the Lakers) was going to be very challenging because of the experience that the roster had at that point in time. I knew it was going to be challenging from that sense, but I feel like we can still play better basketball, and we was doing that,” James said.
“It sucks that my injury happened, then Zo’s injury happened, then so many of injuries happened, we had suspensions. I’m so huge on chemistry and camaraderie … the injuries have taken a toll on our team.”
Ball’s absence has maybe been the biggest toll of all of late. The Lakers have been the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA since Ball went down with a Grade 3 ankle sprain on Jan. 19. Prior to that, the Lakers had the seventh-best defensive efficiency in the NBA, according to NBA.com. The Lakers are also 3.6 points per 100 possessions better on defense when Ball plays than they are when he sits.
Part of that turnaround has less to do with Ball going down and more to do with how horrific the Lakers’ defensive options at point guard are without him — cough, Rajon Rondo, cough — but Ball was the head of the snake for their defensive attack, and without him, the Lakers have flopped around and died on that end of the floor like a headless serpent.
For that reason, James is hoping the the Lakers will be able to reintegrate Ball soon:
“Hopefully we can get Zo back soon, and hopefully we can start to play a little bit better too. Having a point guard out, our turnovers have went up.”
The bad news for James is that Ball is reportedly likely to miss longer than the original 4-6 week timetable provided for him, as he apparently has a bone bruise in addition to his ankle sprain. Exactly six weeks would have had Ball returning on Mar. 2, with 19 games left to play. The longer this injury extends, the fewer games he’ll have to make an impact, much less return to form before the Lakers hit the postseason.
So while it’s good that James recognizes Ball’s obvious value to the team, the Lakers are also past the point where they can count on his return to fix their problems. Anything they get from Ball this year is gravy. If the team wants to focus on fighting for the playoffs, they need to start looking forward and trying to win with what they have, not lamenting their losses and hoping for quick fixes in the form of reinforcements. That’s the harsh but real situation the Lakers find themselves in with just 23 games remaining. We’ll see if they can make the most of it.
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