The start of the NBA season is always a moment of impulsive overreactions. While the 82 games tend to fly by year after year, it is still a long, trying season, with plenty of time for teams to find their groove before the postseason. For the Los Angeles Lakers, the start to their year has been nothing short of chaotic. After their second blown lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, is there cause for concern for this Lakers squad?
Is There Reason To Worry About The Los Angeles Lakers?
Playing Without LeBron
LeBron James will be sidelined with an abdominal strain for at least a week, an injury of which he suffered Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets. The Lakers should be taking any and all precautions regarding the 36 year old James, as they’ve loaded the roster with plenty of talent and high profile stars to help shoulder the load for The King, ideally. James will be 37 at the end of December, and the rest of the roster does not exactly signal a youth movement for the Los Angeles Lakers.
By average, the Los Angeles Lakers are the oldest team in the league, with a team-wide average of 30.9 years of age, with a two year lead over the Miami Heat. It is impossible for anyone to step in and fill James’ shoes during any absence, but the Lakers are relatively well-equipped to provide serviceable minutes for Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony (37), Kent Bazemore (32), and Wayne Ellington (33) are likely to see an uptick in minutes, as Frank Vogel attempts to find a lineup that can push this team through Bron’s absence.
The length of LeBron’s timetable is more than likely a precaution, hopefully it does not become a recurring theme for the aging roster. As constructed, this team is in win-now mode, and the long toll of a regular season may catch up to them come the postseason. Only time will tell if this core can stay healthy.
Russell Westbrook’s Fit
When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook this past summer, it felt like Russ was finally in the perfect position to flourish as the team’s third option behind Bron and AD. However, Russ has primarily been inconsistent in his play for the first chunk of the regular season. Despite this, his numbers would tell you that he has been playing like the same Russ we have been accustomed to his whole career, averaging over 20 points with over eight rebounds and eight assists a night. No doubt an All-Star talent, but what is Russ’ fit alongside AD and especially LeBron?
The makeup of the Lakers should be built around LeBron James, which goes without saying, but this ideally means surrounding him with a combination of shooting a big or two, rather than additional playmaking at the point guard position. Despite the lazy “only one ball” take by Twitter critics, we have seen time and time again these generational talents team up with their overlaying styles of play and make it work on the floor. A combination of Bron-AD-Russ should be able to do so, but not without its fair amount of growing pains along the way.
Russ is far from the shooter that would benefit from a LeBron-oriented offense, but there is still room for him to step in and be a positive. Especially now, in LeBron’s absence, the Lakers are going to need someone to create offense for others, and Russ is more than capable to do so.
What Went Wrong On Thursday Night?
After getting out to a 19-point lead in the first half, the Oklahoma City Thunder quickly erased the deficit until they grabbed their first lead of the game with just under five and a half minutes to play. After Shai Gilgeous-Alexander grabbed the lead late with a bomb from the logo, the Lakers had a chance to tie, Westbrook lost control on a drive and turned the ball over late in a really ugly play, and the Lakers lost possession, and thus the game.
This was the second time in a week’s span that the Lakers blew a 19+ point lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a bottom-feeding organization in the NBA. With LeBron absent, the Los Angeles Lakers just looked lost out there, and it reflected in their inability to create offense and maintain the lead. Although early in the season, two blown leads to the same team is not a good indicator of how this team is operating. The amount of miles on the floor for the Lakers proved too much for the young gunslingers on OKC.
It did not help having Anthony Davis sprain his thumb before the half, but he still managed to post 29 points (11-20), 18 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks in Thursday’s contest. He is said to be questionable for the Lakers’ game on Saturday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Is much of this overreactionary? Of course it is. Is it valid? Probably. The Lakers are coming off of a disappointing 2020-21 season, and they are looking to get back in the championship picture before their already tight window closes. Currently, the Los Angeles Lakers sit at 5-4, with plenty of season left to find their groove. But if the season to this point has shown fans anything, it’s that maybe this superteam is not as much of an initial lock as they were believed to be.
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