LeBron James looked pretty close to normal in his return after missing the past eight games due to an abdominal strain, but the Lakers’ defense continued to struggle as they lost their third game in a row, falling 130-108 to their arch-rival Boston Celtics.
The Lakers struggled to contain Jayson Tatum all night as the Celtics star and Kobe Bryant disciple had a game that his mentor would have been proud of, notching 37 points and 11 rebounds to lead the way for Boston. Four other Celtics scored in double figures, including former Laker menace Dennis Schröder, who finished with 21 points in 34 minutes in his first game against L.A. since he was essentially hung out to dry in free agency after turning down a massive contract extension from the Lakers during last season.
LeBron looked as healthy as could reasonably be expected in his first game since Nov. 2, finishing with 23 points on 10-16 shooting and 3 made threes in 7 attempts, along with 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Anthony Davis led the Lakers in scoring with 31 points, but only had 6 rebounds as the Celtics became the latest team this year to dominate L.A. on the boards.
Boston out-rebounded L.A. 51-33, becoming the latest in a long line of teams this season to expose the Lakers’ lack of quality big man depth and successfully box out Davis with multiple defenders. It didn’t help matters that the Lakers often looked sluggish in their rotations on that end throughout most of the night, and their offense often ground to a halt as well.
Following maybe his best game of the season against the Bucks, Russell Westbrook had an abysmal outing, finishing 5-13 from the field for 12 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists. Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk added 13 and 9 points, respectively, but also finished with the two worst plus-minus marks on the team at -16 and -20 respectively as the Celtics exposed their defensive shortcomings.
All in all, this is another unmitigated disaster for the Lakers, and the return of their best player wound up not making much of a difference. This team needs some sort of drastic change — whether a tangible move to shake up the coaching staff, or the sort of closed-doors vent session that these very Celtics had a few weeks back — to get themselves right.
We’re now 17 games into the season, and the schedule’s not getting any easier. Even the 2010-11 Miami Heat, another famous Big Three featuring LeBron in their first year together, had a better record at this point at 9-8. The Lakers are not that Heat team, nor are they even a winning basketball team right now, and they’re going to have to change that sooner rather than later if they want to come anywhere close to their preseason expectations.