On the night before the trade deadline and in Russell Westbrook’s first missed game of the season, the Lakers somehow looked even more embarrassing than they did against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, losing 107-105 to a Portland Trail Blazers team that was lacking its injured star and had just traded away three of the best members of what’s left of Damian Lillard’s supporting cast.
Any hope of addition by subtraction in the absence of the Lakers’ most frustrating player was pretty quickly dashed as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and most of the role players behind them — save for Wayne Ellington and Talen Horton-Tucker — played with even less energy than I had in my 7:30 a.m. graduate class this morning after staying up late doing homework.
A clearly disinterested James and Davis still finished as the Lakers’ two top scorers. James had 30 points — his 20th straight game with 25 or more points — while Davis finished with 17. Meanwhile, the Lakers had 21 turnovers, providing several fast-break opportunities for Portland’s young, fresh-legged players, who scored 28 points off those giveaways. (Not that the Lakers appeared all that interested in defending in the half-court, either.)
That allowed the Lillard-less Trail Blazers — with a roster among the NBA’s worst after trading Robert Covington, Norman Powell and C.J. McCollum in recent days — to stay in the game much longer than just about anyone would have reasonably expected pregame.
After only outscoring this shell of a Portland team 78-76 through the first three quarters, the Lakers got ambushed by back-to-back three-pointers from a guy named Keljin Blevins (who I swear is a real person and not an NBA 2K create-a-player with a jersey number in the 90s) for a quick 6-0 run to take their biggest lead of the game.
Westbrook was scratched from the Lakers’ lineup in the afternoon thanks to a previously undisclosed back tightness issue, which reportedly affected his play in the Lakers’ depressing loss to the Bucks on Tuesday night, and flared up again on Wednesday. However, with trade rumors involving Westbrook continuing to swirl as it becomes increasingly more apparent that the marriage between the 2017 NBA MVP and his hometown team is a colossal, irredeemable failure, it’s certainly notable that the first game that Russ has sat out all season just happened to come on the eve of the trade deadline.
The Lakers did get some solid minutes from Ellington, especially in the second quarter, as the journeyman shooter made his first two 3-point attempts, and got a key offensive rebound to set up a Davis bucket soon after that sequence, but only saw 15 total minutes of game action.
Horton-Tucker also had one of his better games of the season off the bench, finishing with 14 points and 7 assists as he found his stroke from three-point range, going 4-6 from deep.
But we’re long past the time for silver linings or moral victories. James Worthy said on Spectrum Sportsnet’s postgame show that this was the lowest point he can remember for the Lakers in years, which is saying a lot given what this team went through in the seasons leading up to the 2019-20 title run. Big Game is right, though. Westbrook’s fit around James, Davis and a bunch of aging role players may have always seemed odd, but this is the worst-case scenario.
James is still one of the NBA’s best players right now, which is nuts given that he’s 37 years old, but the entire team around him is coming apart at the seams. It’s not that “LeBron needs help,” — remember, LeBron stans, he pushed for the Westbrook trade and Rob Pelinka has made no secret of how involved James has been in roster decisions since he got to the Lakers. He bears plenty of responsibility for this current mess despite his excellent on-court play, and if you want to yell at me for stating the obvious, my Twitter is linked below. Now, the Lakers are stuck with a $44 million shell of a once-great player whose contract doesn’t even come off the books until after next season, as well as two other max-contract stars. Forget tomorrow’s trade deadline — it would take real gymnastics to undo this mess next offseason, too.
The Lakers will have a couple of days to rest and regroup — and possibly reshape their roster — before facing the Golden State Warriors on Saturday in a nationally broadcast primetime matchup on ABC. That game tips off at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
But if you don’t hate yourself, and would like to spend your Saturday night watching something more enjoyable than a probably inevitable Warriors blowout, I suggest binging The Book of Boba Fett on Disney+ or catching up on 1883 on Paramount+, watching highlights of the PGA’s Waste Management Open that’s taking place in Scottsdale, Ariz. this weekend, or putting some money on Aaron Donald (Go Rams!) to win Super Bowl MVP.
Or, really, anything but watching this team play until they figure some things out.
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 Austin on Twitter at @AustinGreen44.