The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled with LeBron James off the floor this season, and the first half of Thursday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors wasn’t an exception to that season-long trend.
Despite the fact that more than half of the Warriors’ active roster featured rookies — many of whom went undrafted — the Lakers couldn’t build a comfortable lead before the halftime break, leading by just two points at the half. If this were the Warriors from a year ago, a two-point lead would be something worth celebrating, but they’re not — the Warriors (12-47) and the Lakers (45-12) are on two opposite ends of the Western Conference standings, and the score should have reflected that from the beginning.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they’re so talented — even without James — that all they had to do was play hard for a quarter to break the game open. In the third quarter, the Lakers outscored the Warriors 40-17 while shooting 69.6% from the field and holding Golden State to 31.6% shooting from the field. It took a while for the Lakers to get there, but they got into gear and won the game by 30 points.
After the game, Davis told reporters that he hopes he and his teammates can build off of their performance without James, and carry it into future games where James is available (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“We’ve got to get better with that. Usually when he’s playing, when he comes off the floor we kind of take a dip in all aspects of the game. The same way we played tonight without him, we’ve got to play like that when he’s playing, but when he’s not on the floor. It’s good for guys to get those reps, and I think when he comes back, we’ve got to make sure we keep the same pace, same intensity when he’s not on the floor.”
If the Lakers can figure out how to sustain their energy and productivity when James isn’t on the floor, their ceiling as a team will get a nice boost, and Davis thinks it’s only going to get higher as the season progresses:
“There’s still a lot of departments that we can get better at, and that’s a scary thing for teams, and a good thing for us that we’re not playing our best at all at times and we’re still able to get wins. It’s our job to go in and look at the bigger picture, and get prepared for something bigger than just one game.”
It is encouraging that the Lakers have seemingly only reached the tip of the iceberg of their potential as a team, and still have the best record in the Western Conference by a healthy margin (5.5 games). However, it’s also a little worrisome that they haven’t reached their potential yet. Yes, they’ve only played with each other for a little over five months, but elite teams aren’t going to feel sorry for them when the postseason starts in April.
If there’s a switch to be flipped, the Lakers need to show they can do it against other title contenders before the start of the postseason. They’ll get two chances to do that, starting next Thursday when they’ll host the Milwaukee Bucks for their second matchup of the season. Then, on Sunday, March 8, they’ll take on the Clippers for the third time this season. The Lakers have not won a game against the Bucks or Clippers this year.
The Lakers’ growth from the start of the season to now is evident — now they have to show they’re contenders and not just pretenders. If Davis is right, they’re on their way.