It was all bad just a week ago.
Last Saturday, the Lakers lost to the Utah Jazz, marking their second defeat in a row, making them 19-21 on the season. The trade rumors were at a fever pitch and despite LeBron James missing the matchup, fans felt the bigger cause for this loss and the season’s disappointment was a combination of a lackluster roster and Darvin Ham’s coaching.
Fast forward to now and the Lakers are playing some of their best basketball outside of the In-Season Tournament.
They’ve implemented a new starting lineup and with the return of Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura, the Lakers got back their size at the wing, resulting in Los Angeles beating two of the better teams in the Western Conference.
“The reality of it is we have what we had down the stretch last year as well as more firepower and guys who are a year closer and experienced in playing with one another,” Ham said. “So we can stop looking around and just look at ourselves, look within ourselves. There’s a ton of excellent basketball that we can play and in a ton of games that we can win with this group as it is constructed. So he’s (D’Angelo Russell) right at the forefront of that and we just want him to feel comfortable and be able to go out and play the game at the high level like he’s been doing here recently.”
Ham is right. This team did ‘run it back’ with the same core that took them to the Western Conference Finals and a year of continuity should only make the best parts of that iteration better this year.
Now, that hasn’t happened yet, but Ham would likely argue that with Jarred Vanderbilt missing so much time early and stretches with Rui Hachimura out, they haven’t had a chance to benefit from bringing back the best parts of that team. Recent games support that hypothesis, with the Lakers winning games against top teams now that those guys are back and healthy.
Max Christie and Austin Reaves have also increased their roles from last year, with Reaves now averaging over 30 minutes a game and looking to be a starter once again for the foreseeable future.
Christie was glued to the bench last season, but now he’s averaging 17 minutes per game and has already played in 32 games looking to crush his game total from his rookie campaign when he only touched the floor in 41 games for the Lakers.
The trade deadline is fast approaching and this team could look very different after Feb 8. For now, the Lakers are clicking on all cylinders and if they can string together a few more wins, they’ll be in a much better position than they were last year heading into the All-Star break.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.