The Los Angeles Lakers are officially winless in The Crypt, as the team rung in the newly rechristened building formerly known as Staples Center with a 122-115 Christmas Day loss against the Brooklyn Nets.
The team is now 16-18, and have lost five games in a row while they deal with a long-term absence to Anthony Davis, COVID-19 issues and a roster that — despite a late comeback in the fourth to cut the lead from 23 to tie it up before collapsing in the final few possessions — just does not appear to be all that well constructed at this point. This was also a game that is going to bring the Russell Westbrook detractors out in full force, as his missed layup clinic down the stretch saw him finish with 13 points on 4-20 shooting, ending the night a team-low plus-minus of -23 in a seven-point loss.
But hey, LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant to become the leading scorer in the history of NBA on Christmas Day. So that’s cool.
Sorry, that was unnecessarily snarky. James was stellar once again — finishing with 39 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals while desperately trying to help his team end their current losing skid — but other than his continuing greatness, just about the only good news from this game I’m not going to spend any more time away from my family thinking about was the performance of 10-day contract signing Stanley Johnson.
Fiz was asked what the Lakers can do to not collapse when LeBron is on the bench.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 26, 2021
"We could clone him. Do you know any good scientists?"
While Johnson may be a flawed player, it was almost jarring how effective he looked at times simply due to how desperately the Lakers have been missing any wing-sized players whose legs work — other than James — for nearly the entire season.
Johnson’s hellacious effort on defense while trying to deny James Harden the ball was huge in helping the purple and gold make this game closer than it really should have been. Johnson was defending like his NBA life was on the line, and to be honest, it probably was. He legitimately may have won himself a spot for the rest of the year with this performance, and ended the night with 7 points on 2-4 shooting that undersell the impact he made in his first 27 minutes for his hometown team.
David Fizdale on the challenge of guarding James Harden, "Stanley Johnson was fantastic on him. For a guy just getting moved up, that's big time."— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) December 26, 2021
Stanley Johnson says it's a dream come true to get this opportunity back with his hometown team.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 26, 2021
"One of the things that helped me fall in love with basketball was watching the Lakers play... It's something that I'm going to remember for a long time."
Johnson’s fellow 10-day replacement signing, Darren Collison, also got 12 minutes off the bench during his first day in a Laker uniform, two events that would not seem to bode well for Isaiah Thomas, who got a DNP-CD in his final game before his 10-day contract expires tomorrow.
In the spirit of the season, I’ll be kind, but despite two strong games to start his Lakers tenure, a small, defensively challenged, ball dominant guard just does not appear to be what this team needs right now. Best of luck to Thomas as he tries to find a place to stick in the league, but it just does not seem like that place is Los Angeles given the team’s other needs.
The Lakers will now get Sunday and Monday off before hitting the road to take on the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. Happy holidays, everyone. Sorry the Lakers (mostly) left you a lump of coal.