In Tuesday’s gut-wrenching loss to the Boston Celtics, LeBron James and Anthony Davis each needed to play a near-perfect game just to compete against their shorthanded rivals. AD (37 points) and LeBron (33 points) combined for 70 of the Lakers’ 118 points in 46 and 42 minutes respectively. What made Los Angeles’ epic collapse 10 times worse was that their superstars’ heroic efforts weren’t enough to save the day.
Sure, it was Davis’ responsibility to knock down those clutch free throws that could’ve probably sealed the game. Or James should’ve focused on driving to the basket instead of chucking inefficient 3-pointers late in the game, or simply made his defensive rotations. But the result of their minimal mistakes just proves that the margin for error (even if they’re playing at a high level) is extremely thin, and that’s basically a reflection of the position they’re in. It’s concerning enough that Davis had to literally play the whole second half including overtime just to keep the Lakers afloat last Tuesday.
AD should be making like 1.5x his salary for today lol that 2nd stint was BRUTAL https://t.co/Ykuo4g2FQm— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) December 14, 2022
This then begs to ask the question in the headline: How much longer can the dynamic duo carry this Lakers team? Because nothing screams “get them more help” than James and Davis have to exhaust themselves as early as December in Game 27. This is more than enough sample size to determine that this team has a lot of weaknesses that badly need to be addressed.
Some lineup data from the day after.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 14, 2022
According to @cleantheglass LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played in exactly 1000 possessions together this season. The Lakers are +2.2 in those.
What's noteworthy is the duo's five most shared lineups are all negative this season. pic.twitter.com/s8x3bjREUm
Take it from Celtics’ head coach Joe Mazzulla himself, who literally couldn’t help but point out the Lakers’ shooting woes in the middle of a huddle during a timeout. Mazzulla would’ve nailed the hammer on the head had he also said that this team can’t guard anyone taller than 6’5 to save their lives, are ranked 27th in the league in clutch defense and have a problematic offense outside of James and Davis.
Joe Mazzulla: “Protecting the paint is the most important thing. That’s the only thing they have is transition and the paint.”— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) December 14, 2022
He’s right but it’s still sort of jarring to hear an opposing coach basically say “hey this team can’t shoot!” pic.twitter.com/y1EYDH3gfV
If a rookie head coach like Mazzulla is well aware of the Lakers’ biggest problems, their front office should be too, and they aren’t doing their superstars a favor by improving their chances to compete. Remember, it’s literally Dec. 15 as you’re scrolling and reading through this, the same day Rob Pelinka and Co. have reportedly moved their own trade deadline to after months of exhausting rumors that have resulted to nothing; dilly-dallying around and hesitating to give up their precious draft capital — while waiting for a mysterious superstar to miraculously fall in their lap.
Only time will tell if the Lakers are serious about helping their superstars who have proven they have what it takes to win at the biggest stage, but for now, the chances of that happening are in question. And like it has been all season, Davis and James are expected to power through and carry their flawed team after a heartbreaking loss (once again) against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
Notes and Updates
- The Lakers are running into a Nuggets team (17-10) that’s been clicking as of late. Led by the brilliance of two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the resurgence of Jamal Murray, Denver has won seven out of their last 10 games. This is going to be a tough matchup for the Lakers especially given their lack of frontcourt depth and size issues, because aside from being the third-best team in the Western Conference, the Nuggets are currently averaging 53.2 points in the paint per game this season.
- Speaking of tough matchups, a fun one to look out for in Friday’s primetime game is the one between Davis and Jokic, two big men playing at a really high level right now. Jokic is coming off an incredible 43 points, 11 rebounds and 8-assist performance against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, while AD had himself a night the day before with his own 37 points and 12 rebounds in a losing effort against the Celtics. The two are 1-1 against each other this season.
- For the Lakers’ injury report, the team is listing Anthony Davis (low back tightness) and LeBron James (left ankle soreness) as probably for Friday. Wenyen Gabriel (left shoulder sprain) and Juan Toscano-Anderson (right ankle sprain) are out while Scotty Pippen Jr. (G-League two-way) and Cole Swider (G-League two-way) are with the South Bay Lakers.
- As for the Nuggets, Michael Porter Jr. (heel) won’t be in uniform.
- Zooming outside of the Lakers, the purple and gold aren’t the only ones noting this day as a mini trade deadline day. Exactly 74 more players are now available to be in trade negotiations as of Thursday. While this doesn’t mean trade deals are bound to happen today per se, it’s more or less the beginning of the trade deadline season this year.
The Lakers and Nuggets will tip off at 7 p.m. PT on Friday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.