With injuries aplenty and the team struggling, the calls for patience were frustrating for fans. Losses do not create an environment where patience is an easy path to take.
But it was the right approach to the situation and the recent play from the Lakers shows as much. With the team now getting healthy and playing as close to full strength as they have all year, they pulled off victories in their three biggest games of the season in the In-Season Tournament.
In the process, the Lakers showed more potential to be a title contender that so many expected them to have coming into the year. After Saturday’s In-Season Tournament final, LeBron spoke about where the team is at now and what has been the difference for them over the last week.
“I feel like guys have a felt a lot more comfortable in their roles,” LeBron said. “We’ve had a pretty good understanding of, like, rotations. You know who you’re going to be playing with, you know what you guys want to do on the floor. Like AD said, getting Vando back, getting Rui back has definitely helped our frontcourt, helped our size. Getting Cam back has helped us out a lot.”
Not only were the Lakers’ injuries to impactful players, they were all to the same position group in wings. One of the Lakers’ strengths when healthy, the wing position became an area weakness. A player like Max Christie was thrust into the starter role and the demand on LeBron continually increased.
With the likes of Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura back, the team can ask less of LeBron and benefit from the reintroduction of talented players. Vando’s defense is wreaking havoc again. Rui’s ability to be a safety valve on offense has released some of the pressure on the tandem of LeBron and AD and, most importantly, the sum of having everyone together is paying dividends.
No longer are role players required to have strong nights for the Lakers to be competitive. An off night from someone like Taurean Prince or D’Angelo Russell to start the season carried extra significance as the Lakers had no Plan B options.
Now, the team is building on the chemistry from last season and showing the promise most felt they had. Promise in December does not mean wins in May or June — or January and February, for that matter — but considering where the Lakers were, seeing them gain comfort is as encouraging a sign as they’ve seen all year.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.