The Lakers (26-28) are back at it on Wednesday, but this time on the road against a Portland Trail Blazers team that’s been leading the news cycle during the NBA trade deadline so far this week.
Given the Blazers’ roster turnover during the past 48 hours, this should be the perfect opportunity for the purple and gold to snatch an easy win and improve their overall record. Because if there’s one thing the team desperately needs right now, it’s winnable games like this one, given their tough remaining schedule and the mess that transpired after Tuesday’s loss.
Tuesday’s game against the Bucks wasn’t just about the Lakers’ lackluster and embarrassing performance, but also the awkward and cringeworthy postgame quotes from both Russell Westbrook and LeBron James — the latter of whom who perfectly summed up how disgusting the Lakers’ current situation is.
Here's the transcript of my press conference exchange with LeBron James to close out the evening. It's hard not to read into this: pic.twitter.com/hcdnJqrXlB— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 9, 2022
From benching Westbrook in the fourth quarter for two straight games, to James and Anthony Davis going through their toughest stretch as a duo in the past three years, the Lakers have truly hit rock bottom. Again. Now, they have no choice but to start winning games in order to move past the events of the past few hours (if that’s even possible at this point).
At least on Wednesday, the Lakers won’t have to deal with Norman Powell anymore, who had a game high 30-points against them just five days ago. L.A. will also no longer be seeing nine-year veteran CJ McCollum (who was just traded to the New Orleans Pelicans) but could perhaps meet Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Tomas Satoransky for the first time in a Blazers uniform on Wednesday.
And this time, LeBron James will be present in the lineup, so Wednesday’s game will probably be a whole lot different compared to what we saw last week. Unless, of course, the Lakers stick to their usual script of allowing non-All-Stars from the opposing team to play like superstars.
The Lakers have to make sure to contain Anfernee Simons (who had 19 points last game) and Jusuf Nurkic (who had 16 points) way better this time. It would be nice to see Anthony Davis win his matchup against Nurkic from start to finish again, and dominate the Blazers’ pick-and-roll defense like he did last week.
And, hopefully, L.A. can also do a better job scoring in the paint, rebounding the ball and running in transition — three things they didn’t do particularly well against the Blazers last game.
It would be also great to see Westbrook find his groove and regain his confidence back in this game after two straight horrible performances. Westbrook has made the Lakers’ decision to trade for him this offseason look worse and worse each game, so if he can have one of those throwback type of performance that remind the world who he can be, then that would be huge for the Lakers on Wednesday.
When asked if he knows the benchmarks he has to hit to make the Lakers’ closing lineup, Russell Westbrook said: “I shouldn’t have to hit any benchmarks, to be honest. I put a lot of work in. I got a lot of respect in this game. … I earned the right to be in closing lineups.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) February 9, 2022
That said, if the Lakers win Wednesday’s game, they will be in contention for that eight seed (yes, we’ve come to this) in the Western Conference standings. L.A. could’ve climbed up into that spot and moved closer to overtaking the Los Angeles Clippers (27-29), Minnesota Timberwolves (29-25) and even the Denver Nuggets (30-24) had they won against the Bucks, but they failed to seize the opportunity, the only thing they’ve done consistently this season.
Now, the Lakers have no choice but to fight for a decent spot in the standings by having to grind out games against powerhouse teams like the Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, the Lakers always make the Clippers look like contenders against them) in the following days.
They now also have hope that the Clippers, Timberwolves, and Nuggets start losing games just for them to have a fighting chance to climb up. And they need all of these to happen as they navigate through yet another unpleasant and awkward situation in the locker room.
It’s admittedly a lot to hope for, but all this dysfunction in tandem makes Wednesday’s winnable game truly a must win.
Notes and Updates
- Frank Vogel mentioned before Tuesday’s game that Carmelo Anthony will sidelined against the Blazers as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Dwight Howard (back) will travel with the team and is considered questionable.
- Speaking of injuries, Lakers MLE signee Kendrick Nunn (bone bruise) has yet to suit up in a regular season game, in case anyone had somehow missed that. Vogel says that Nunn won’t return until at least March, if at all.
- For some trade deadline news, the Lakers haven’t made a move in the past few days, and are still trying to shop Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and a 2027-first round pick, but many team don’t seem interested. L.A. still has less than 48 hours to make a move to hopefully improve this mediocre roster.
Frank Vogel on NBA trade deadline conversations with Rob Pelinka: "I keep those conversations private. If there's ways we can improve our team, we're going to do it."— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) February 9, 2022
The Lakers will tip-off against the Blazers at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
To keep up with all the latest reports before the deadline, check out our 2022 Lakers trade rumors tracker. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani