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Lakers vs. Cavaliers Preview: Needing more out of LeBron and AD

If the Lakers are to have a chance against the blistering Cavs, they’ll need LeBron James and Anthony Davis to put on otherworldy offensive performances that simply haven’t happened yet this season.

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Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers lost 130-116 to the Utah Jazz on Friday night, marking the first poor performance from the team’s defense in what has otherwise been a near-perfect start to the season on that end up.

The team will now have to quickly lick its wounds from the loss that dropped its overall record to 2-6, as the Lakers will be facing a team that is arguably playing the best basketball in the entire league right now in the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs come into Sunday’s very early matinee game with a 7-1 record. The team leads the league in net rating heading into Saturday’s action, including a second-ranked defensive rating and a sixth-ranked offensive rating.

In their most recent game on Friday, they blew the doors off the Pistons in Detroit to the tune of a 112-88 victory. The result isn’t too surprising when you consider the Pistons’ expectations this season, however, that’s without noting that the Cavs played without their two best players in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland.

The Lakers will have to figure out some defensive adjustments between Friday and Sunday, especially if Mitchell and Garland suit up after sitting out their Friday game vs. the Pistons, as Darvin Ham gave the team’s effort on that end vs. the Jazz an “F at best.”

But more so than that, they will need their two stars to simply be better.

Leaning on LeBron and AD

Anthony Davis is currently averaging 23.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.9 steals per game. LeBron James is averaging 24.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game.

Those are magnificent numbers for most players in the league, but for these two superstars on this roster... it’s just not enough.

In the game against the Jazz, AD had 20 points at the half, with most of those points coming at the rim as he was cleaning up on the boards. He even added the rare made 3-pointer as it seemed the Lakers were ready to ride his coattails to their third straight victory. But then, you could have forgotten he was even out there on the offensive end in the second half as he had a mere two points.

Meanwhile, LeBron has continued his puzzling start to the season, as he’s been one of the few Lakers who struggled out of the gate on offense to still have those early woes linger around. With Westbrook’s individual rise concurring with his move to the bench, LeBron’s shooting efficiency numbers look comparable to the much-maligned Russ in what no Laker or NBA fan could have predicted, even on such a small sample size.

In AD’s defense, I must bring up his defense (I couldn’t help myself). He’s averaging 4.2 “stocks” per game (steals and blocks combined), leading the league with O.G. Anunoby (4.0) and Myles Turner (3.8) behind him.

And for LeBron’s defense... well, I don’t really have one. I will point out that he’s had less-than-stellar starts to his seasons in these recent seasons with the Lakers. In the first six games of last season (before he missed some time due to injury), LeBron averaged 24.8 PPG. Through his first eight games of the 2020-21 season, he was only averaging 23.9 PPG.

But in the first eight games of the championship 2019-20 season, LeBron was averaging 26.0 PPG, which ended up being more than the 25.3 he averaged when it was all said and done. And in the 2018-19 season, he averaged 27.8 PPG through the first eight games. This trend of LeBron’s starts to these five Lakers seasons paints a trend of deterioration for the 37-year-old (soon to be 38) LeBron, which would be an extreme detriment to these Lakers if it were to continue.

For more defense of the Lakers’ two superstars, they’re both now playing through nagging injuries: AD with his lower back that has lingered since the start of training camp and LeBron now with a foot injury that has caused him to appear as probable on the injury report for basically the entire season. LeBron came down awkwardly on that foot in the game against the Jazz on a layup attempt, causing him to take a while before getting back on his feet.

But that defense of LeBron and AD can easily be turned into one of their most validated criticisms as they have been extremely injury-prone in the time since the 2020 championship.

It’s harsh, but this roster — positive surprises included — isn’t good enough for bad-to-average play from LeBron and AD. They have to find a way to get healthy and be better on the offensive end, otherwise, this team will not have any sort of substantial success this season, let alone a win on Sunday against the impressive Cavaliers.

Notes and Updates

  • The Cavaliers’ injury report shows star guards Donovan Mitchell (left ankle sprain) and Darius Garland (left knee sprain) as questionable. Mitchell missed the Cavs’ rout of the Pistons on Friday with this same injury, marking the first game he had missed this year. Garland missed that Pistons game as well, missing that game just after returning on Wednesday vs. the Celtics following a five-game absence due to an eye injury he sustained in the Cavs’ first game of the season. Needless to say, it’ll be very important to the Lakers’ game plan to monitor if either of these two guys will suit up on Sunday.
  • Other than that, the Cavs’ injury report shows Ricky Rubio (recovery from ACL tear), Dylan Windler (right ankle sprain) and Isaiah Mobley (two-way play) as out.
  • Thomas Bryant (thumb surgery), Dennis Schroder (thumb surgery), Cole Swider (two-way), and Scotty Pippen Jr (two-way) are all out. LeBron James (left foot soreness) and Wenyen Gabriel (non-COVID illness) are probable. Anthony Davis is questionable with his lower back tightness. Per Kyle Goon of the OC Register, Darvin Ham said that the current plan is for both LeBron and AD to play against Cleveland and on the second night of the back-to-back in Utah.

The Lakers and Cavaliers will tip off early at 12:30 p.m. PT. You can catch the game on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.

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