The Lakers, to put it charitably, have not been a good team since LeBron James joined Anthony Davis on the bench as they both sit out with injuries. They’re 3-6 since James went out (he only played 11 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks in the first game of that stretch), and while their defense has actually gotten 1.8 points per 100 possessions stingier than their league-best mark on the season — they’re allowing a defensive rating of just 103.8 — their offense has cratered far enough into the earth to wipe out the dinosaurs without their two stars.
Prior to James’ injury, the Lakers were exactly average on offense, ranking 15th in the NBA while scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions. They’ve been dead last over the last nine games since he went down, scoring just 99.7 points per 100 possessions. For context, that is nearly five full points worse than the league-worst offensive rating the Cavaliers (104.8) have managed this season. Of their 10 lowest scoring performances of the season, five have come in the last nine games.
The team has been critical of their own offensive output and offered up various theories for what is going wrong beyond their two best players being out, but head coach Frank Vogel said last week that the team is still “confident” that they have a chance going into every game they play.
“We feel like we should win every night. We’ve got a good team, we’ve got a lot of good players here, we’ve got one of the deeper teams in the league, and one that we hope to be able to withstand the injuries that we’ve faced,” Vogel said.
“If we play to our abilities, we can beat anybody,” Vogel continued. “That will be the mindset every game over this stretch that everybody is making a big deal about.”
It’s a mindset that the Lakers have to take to some degree, but it also doesn’t meant that we can’t look beyond what they have to say and understand that games without their two best players were always going to be a slog. This team deserves a ton of credit for holding it down defensively, but when you take a bunch of guys that were put together to score around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it’s not really that much of a surprise when they are not as good without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Now, maybe new signings like Ben McLemore or Andre Drummond can give them some boost in that department, but until James and Davis return, things are likely going to look rough for the Lakers offensively. So far they’ve managed to avoid falling too far down in the standings, but at 31-19 are now in fifth place in the Western Conference, and just half a game ahead of sixth-place Portland (30-19). They are still 2.5 games ahead of the seventh-place Dallas Mavericks (28-21), giving them a good chance to avoid a play-in spot if they can keep treading water, but it’s going to be tough sledding for a while until they get at least one or both of their stars back.
All that noted, Vogel’s comments and the team’s play makes it clear that despite their issues shooting the ball, the Lakers are taking the right approach and mindset while defending their asses off to give themselves a chance to win every night, and that’s all any of us can really ask of them. If they can just hit a few shots in some of these games, maybe they actually will win a few nights, even if “every night” is unlikely while they deal with these injuries. Good on them for not taking the excuse and continuing to fight, but those of us on the outside just need to be patient and wait for their reinforcements to get healthy and return to the lineup.