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Lakers show potential vs. Celtics, but work still to be done

A disappointing loss against the Celtics on Christmas Day shows both the promise and the work still left to be done for the Lakers to be elite.

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES — It was the best of times, it was the worst times.

It was Anthony Davis scoring 40 points, it was LeBron James managing just 16 on 5-14 shooting. it was Tauren Prince knocking down five 3-pointers, it was the Celtics dominating the paint. It was the Lakers playing well for stretches against a title contender, it was a loss against your arch-nemesis on Christmas Day.

The energy from the crowd was the highest it's been all year which is to be expected when bitter rivals matchup against one another. Celtics fans made their presence known, Lakers aficionados lived and died on every three taken. The game didn't have a playoff intensity, but how big of a deal this game is wasn't lost on head coach Darvin Ham.

"It's a great sign when you get to play on Christmas Day," Ham said prior to the game. "So, I think it's great energy. I think the guys will come in pumped, we're playing in the Celtics, so that's sort of self-explanatory. You don't have to have some big in-depth motivational speech."

Perhaps Ham should've given an Any Given Sunday type speech as the Lakers couldn't have started any worse. The Celtics began on a 12-0 run and L.A. trailed by as many as 18 in the opening frame.

The Lakers ultimately got back into the game and stayed in it until midway through the fourth, but ultimately lost 126-115. While many positives came out of the game, this matchup demonstrated how much more work there is to do.

Coaches love defense and Ham is no different. However, there are two jobs in the game of basketball, stop the team from scoring and score yourself. When it all gets accumulated, you have to be on the right side of that equation and on Monday, the Lakers failed to do that. Two games is too small of a sample size, but the fact Ham’s defensive-based starting five struggled to put points on the board is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Ham has to figure out how to put a balanced lineup out as much as possible and if they can't convert on open threes and easy points in the paint, then another change will have to come.

It's not all doom and gloom. Davis has continued his offensive hot streak, giving the Lakers a 40-point masterclass, and once again looking like a star amongst stars in one of the regular season's biggest stages.

With Davis playing like this, the Lakers' ceiling gets raised considerably. It turns him from a great defender with occasional offensive slumps into one of the best bigs in the league, placing him next to Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić.

With the Lakers down by nine heading into the fourth, Ham opted to use Jaxson Hayes as part of the unit that was supposed to start the comeback. It went as expected, with Hayes missing a dunk on the break that could've been a momentum changer and, when Davis returned to the floor with under eight minutes to go, the deficit stood at 13.

LeBron James just came off an incredible performance versus the Thunder where he scored 40 points and helped the Lakers end their four-game losing streak, but Monday left a lot to be desired.

Sixteen points in 38 minutes isn’t going to cut it and, beyond the numbers, he didn’t have many impactful plays. The most energetic he looked was when he blocked a Jayson Tatum dunk attempt on a play that still resulted in a foul on Taurean Prince after an overturned call and two Tatum free throws.

This was a perfect microsome for tonight, when something good happened, it was immediately followed by the opposite.

Rui Hachimura was also disappointing on Monday. He got all the looks you wanted but failed to knock down any of them. It’s a cliche to say it’s a make-or-miss league, but it is, and Hachimura missed them. He went 0-7 from three through three quarters and ended the night with 12 points on 5-12 shooting, half of those coming in garbage time.

You have little room for error against the best in the NBA and on Monday, the Lakers weren't sharp enough to close things out.

“There's no nights off in this league anymore, but we can't skip the details," Ham said postgame. "We can't get bored with the details, sprinting back each and every time, no matter how difficult it may be. Fatigue, what have you, got to sprint back transition D and allow yourself the chance to have the offense in front of you and not be scattered or have them behind you."

There might be some gloom and disappointment in the Lakers coming home and getting beat decidedly by their biggest rival, but Austin Reaves' confidence remains unfazed.

“I think we can beat any team that steps on the floor," Reaves said after the game. "If we don't have that outlook, then what are we doing? But we have that outlook, we just got to tighten some things up and kind of just get that foundation planted and run with that. But anytime we step on the floor, we feel confident with what we got".

Thirty-one games in, there is still a lot left for the Lakers to figure out, but there is still time to do so. It will take an all-hands-on-deck approach for the Lakers to maximize their potential and perhaps even then, vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka may need to execute a trade to get this team to that next level.

For now, this team has demonstrated they have some great pieces, but Ham has to figure out how to make them all fit into the image to help raise another banner.

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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