The Los Angeles Lakers gave their fans the nice gift of not waking up mad to start the New Year, as they easily handled the Portland Trail Blazers, beating them by a final score of 139-106. It was the most points that the purple-and-gold have scored all season, in easily their most comfortable win from tip-off to the final buzzer.
They’ll now kick off 2022 with a matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night. And as sad as this is to admit, this is a somewhat important matchup for the currently seventh-seeded Lakers in terms of the standings, as they’re only one game ahead of the ninth-seeded Timberwolves.
Making it even more critical — at least as January games go — is that the Lakers have lost both of the games they’ve had against Minnesota in embarrassing fashion (even if the most recent one saw Anthony Davis get injured in the second half, while the first did not include LeBron James).
Still, the Lakers could really use this one. So let’s go ahead and dive into the preview, starting off with The King himself.
Rumble, old man, rumble
LeBron was a huge reason for the team winning so easily on Friday, scoring 43 points in only 29 minutes just a day after turning 37 years old. The outing was the most points scored by a 37-year-old player since the late Kobe Bryant infamously dropped 60 in his final game ever.
LeBron put up 43 points tonight, the second most for a 37 year old— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 1, 2022
Only Kobe Bryant scored more ... and that was in his final NBA game pic.twitter.com/dSbajP5QWE
And we probably should start getting used to LeBron notching many “oldest player to do this” records as we make our way through the 2022 calendar year, as this 43-point performance was no outlier. He’s now scored 30+ points in seven straight games and is possibly on his way to a Western Conference Player of the Month award, give that he averaged 30.7 points (55.7 FG%), 9.3 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game in December.
Interestingly enough, the last time LeBron failed to score 30 points was when he scored 18 on December 17th in... that aforementioned 18-point loss to the Timberwolves. He only took 13 attempts in that game, which was the contest where Davis left before halftime due to a Timberwolves player falling into his knee, causing an MCL sprain.
However, he’s really in a groove right now, playing at a level he just hadn’t quite activated prior to that most recent game against Minnesota. He’s been feeling it lately though, especially from deep, as he has made 16 of his 29 3-point attempts (55.1%) in the past three games.
He will look to continue his dominance to get the Lakers’ their first win against the Timberwolves this season. As previously stated, there have been some caveats to the team’s two blowout losses against Minnesota, with those previously mentioned excuses not even covering the fact that the Lakers’ COVID-19 situation was at its worst when these two last played. Aside from losing Davis early, the team had to include Chaundee Brown, Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, and Isaiah Thomas in their Dec. 17 rotation, with the latter two players both playing 22 minutes.
For context, none of those players were in the rotation last night, and only Jordan is even still on the roster. Now that the likes of Trevor Ariza, Malik Monk, and Austin Reaves are back in the fold — players LeBron referred to as the team’s “glue guys” after Friday’s win — combined with LeBron’s recent other-worldly play, the Lakers may just be able to start 2022 just as they ended 2021: With a win.
Notes and Updates
- Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn are currently the only two Lakers slated to miss this game.
Here is the Lakers' injury report for tomorrow's game. Most notable thing is that Rajon Rondo is still in the health and safety protocols, so his trade is not yet official. pic.twitter.com/ijnQ8vEmus— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 1, 2022
- The Timberwolves will be coming into this one short-handed, as Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell will remain in health and safety protocols. Many Timberwolves will be questionable as they “return to competition reconditioning” after being in protocols themselves. Second-year star Anthony Edwards is one of those players, although he did play Friday against the Jazz after returning from COVID-19.
- Around the league, the Chicago Bulls remain tied with the Brooklyn Nets atop the Eastern Conference at 23-10 after a wild, one-legged 3-point buzzer-beater from DeMar DeRozan defeated the Pacers 108-106 on Friday.
DeRozan has averaged 26.8 points per game this season, forming what is arguably the best duo in the league with Zach LaVine’s 26 points per game.
The Lakers and Timberwolves will tip-off at 6:30 p.m. PT on Sunday, with the game being televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
Happy New Year!