After a four-game stretch where Lakers fans were finally able to enjoy some basketball from their favorite team — even if their record in that phase only amounted to 2-2 — the team reverted back to form on Sunday with a monumental second half collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Yes, after the Lakers went into the half leading 69-49, they were promptly outscored 67-39 in the following half... something you could have easily seen coming if you followed a certain editor-in-chief that may be reviewing this preview.
To be fair to the team, unlike other times where they lost big leads, they had a more valid excuse in this one, as LeBron James rolled his ankle in particularly ugly fashion during the first half. He was able to finish the game, but he was noticeably slower on defense and much less willing to do much of anything on offense aside from passing and heaving deep 3-pointers.
LeBron noted after the game that the ankle felt “horrible,” with that severity showing on the injury report of the Lakers’ upcoming game against the Mavericks. The team is listing James as doubtful, which means he’s all but ruled out.
And of course, because of the general “two steps forward, three steps back” pattern the Lakers have exhibited all year, the team can’t have any good news without any bad news to accompany it, as we now can’t even enjoy the fact that Anthony Davis has been upgraded from out to doubtful. Head coach Frank Vogel indicated Monday that DAvis had practiced in full that day, with the team giving him a little bit more time before making his return.
Also in that media availability, Vogel used a phrase that’s been thrown around a few times on Lakers Twitter to describe this season... saying it feels like the team is “snakebitten” with how many injuries to LeBron and AD have popped up here and there.
So... yeah. Now that I’ve got all the fun news out of the way. Let’s go ahead and dive into the rest of our preview of that Tuesday game against the Mavs that will almost certainly not feature LeBron or AD.
Any fight still left?
Although I provided a defense of the Lakers’ second half on Sunday with the excuse of LeBron’s injury above, I won’t be listing any more excuses. Even with that injury (and Davis’ ongoing absence) factored in, a professional basketball team with high preseason expectations should still win a game where they lead by 20 at half. But, as we’ve learned countless times this year, this isn’t just any professional basketball team. It’s one of the mentally weakest teams you’ll ever see in the NBA.
Frank Vogel didn’t sugarcoat it following Monday’s practice, applauding the team’s first half, while admitting that they still haven’t learned to take good teams seriously when they have big leads on them.
“I commended our guys for how we came out to start the game,” Frank Vogel started to say when asked what the focus was in Monday’s film session. “Playoff mindset, brought the fight to our opponent, played with offensive swag and confidence. I think the lesson to learn is when you get a big lead against a good team, they’re going to respond. They’re going to come out fighting in the second half. And we didn’t handle the in-game adversity very well.”
So what happens now that the Lakers will be playing a much better team in the Mavericks in a game where they’ll likely be without their two best players?
It’s hard to expect much, especially when you consider what happened in the team’s most recent half, even if it was with a one-legged LeBron. The worries grow even more when you consider just how important Sunday’s game was, as the Lakers now have a very small chance at being able to host their first play-in game (if they’re even able to make the play-in now). Instead, they’ll likely have to go play in New Orleans, just as they did on Sunday.
However, Frank Vogel did see something in practice on Monday. He said the team had a good day, and even went as far to make the following bold statement.
Frank Vogel said the Lakers' defense crumbled last week against Philadelphia when they played without LeBron, but he wants to see that competitive spirit again tomorrow in Dallas: "We fought like hell in that game. And we're gonna fight like hell tomorrow night."— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) March 28, 2022
That is hard to believe when one considers the fact that a player within that practice — Anthony Davis — likely won’t even play tomorrow. And that unbelievability doesn’t even factor in the lack of fight the team has shown throughout this season.
But hey, the last time the Lakers put up a good fight against an elite team was last Wednesday when they fell to the 76ers by only 5 points. That game also did not include LeBron and AD, so maybe Vogel is onto something.
And hopefully he is, as this team is in extreme danger of not even making the play-in anymore and can use every win they can steal over these final eight games. A shocking upset without their two superstars could get the team rolling in the right direction (again), especially when paired with the knowledge that at least one of those stars will likely sometime in the next week.
Notes and Updates:
- DraftKings Sportsbook isn’t believing in Frank Vogel’s positivity, as they have the Mavericks as 11.5 point favorites at the time of this publishing. The Lakers’ moneyline odds are at +500.
- There’s not much else to note regarding the Lakers’ injury report for the game aside from LeBron and AD. Kendrick Nunn is still out, and Dwight Howard (hip soreness) will be probable after being a game-time decision on Sunday.
- The Mavericks’ injury report lists Tim Hardaway, Jr. (recovery from left foot surgery), Sterling Brown (health and safety protocols), and Theo Pinson (fractured finger) as out with no other players to note.
- Around the league, I’m saddened to say that the Celtics are still rolling, now tied with the Heat for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. However, after winning on Sunday to get into that tie, they received some unfortunate news as Robert Williams — a key part of their defense that has helped them win so many games in recent months — tore his left knee’s meniscus with a reported absence of at least “several weeks”.
The Lakers and Mavericks will tip off at 4:30 p.m. PST, with the game televised nationally on TNT, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.