What the Nets game told us about the Lakers

(News4usonline) – A couple of observations from the Los Angeles Lakers tangle with the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day. In the grand scheme of things of the regular season, this game is not going to matter in the spring when everyone’s best ball will be flowing then.

The Lakers are already getting the best out of LeBron James. It appears, though, that’s not going to be enough for the Lakers to challenge either the Golden State Warriors or the Phoenix Suns for supremacy in the NBA’s Western Conference.

James went to work and again showed his dominance on the court, scoring 39 points with nine rebounds and seven assists. It was a monster game by James.

“I’m kicking myself in the head because he’s giving me incredible effort,” Lakers acting coach David Fizdale said of James’ herculean effort. “ I’m trying to find out a way of getting him over the hump with that effort, and I hate that it’s wasted on losses.

“But it’s spectacular and I hate that it’s wasted on losses, but to watch it and be a part of it even though those games are turning into L’s, I’ve never seen anything like this guy and we better sure as hell be thanking our lucky stars for this guy.”

What the Lakers’ 122-115 loss to James Harden and the Nets says is that James, on any given night, cannot just take his teammates to next level basketball as he has always done throughout his career.

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December 25, 2021. James Harden (13) of the Brooklyn Nets goes up for the rebound against Russell Westbrook (0) of the Los Angeles Lakers. Photo by Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

“It is what it is,” James said after the game. “I’ll go back and watch film, see if there are ways and opportunities, I could’ve been a step sooner, a step faster to a loose ball or to a rebound. I had a couple turnovers that I feel were opportunities. If I didn’t have three turnovers to maybe one, I could’ve been a lot better offensively.”

James continued, “Like I said, I try to do my part when I’m out on the floor, carry the load, do a little bit on both sides, try to lead by example and also try to lead with my voice. It’s obviously been difficult throughout this stretch, but that won’t stop me. I’ll continue to do what I’m doing.”

It also means that all those complementary players like Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook are going to have to step up and deliver.

Now neither Anthony nor Westbrook have played terribly in their stint with the Lakers thus far. Anthony, who scored 17 points in 38 minutes of action, has had his moments where he is unguardable. Westbrook, who made just 4 of his 20 field goal attempts against Brooklyn, is still finding his way.    

This is season No. 4 for James with the Lakers, and it is perhaps his most challenging. And we still have three full months of NBA basketball left to play in the regular season.

So what will James and the Lakers do during that time? After losing to the Nets, the Lakers dropped to 16-18 on the season. The Nets’ defeat put the Lakers’ skid mark at five with two games on the road before they close out 2021 with a home date against the Portland Trail Blazers.

And so about those observations, let’s get this party started.

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December 25, 2021. Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony (7) with the defense. Photo by Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

The first thing about the Lakers is that their perimeter defense sucks right now. It might get better as the season goes on, but for now, the Lakers can’t guard a sloth. The Nets made 14 of 32 of their shots from 3-point land. 

On the other hand, the Lakers themselves are not that good of a team shooting 3-pointers. Los Angeles went 10 of 35 from behind the arc, good enough for just 28 percent. Right now, the Lakers are giving up just over 112 points per game.

With James Harden going for 36 points and Patty Mills dropping 34 points, mostly from the perimeter, the Nets threatened to blow the Lakers out of their own building after taking a 23-point lead early in the fourth quarter. James and the Lakers went on a 33-20 run in the period, but it wasn’t enough to overtake Brooklyn. 

“Just getting stops,” Harden said on stifling the Lakers’ rally. “I put that fourth quarter, just offensively, on myself. I wasn’t attacking the paint, getting to the rim like I had done the previous three quarters for whatever reason. So, allowing them to get into transition, to get layups and get open threes; Melo hit a couple threes, Malik Monk hit a couple threes. Just had to settle down and get a good shot and then defensively come up with a stop. And we did that with 45 seconds to go.”

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December 25, 2021. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James scored 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets in an NBA Christmas Day game. James also had nine rebounds and seven assists in the Lakers’ 122-115 defeat to the Nets at Crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

This is where Anthony Davis is needed…in crunch time and the game on the line. It’s too bad he was not on the court. As talented as Davis is, the Lakers need him on the court blocking shots, dominating the paint, and scoring at will against opponents instead of sitting on the bench in street clothes. 

Another injury has caused Davis to miss a good portion of the season. This movie seems to have a recurring theme to it. And quite simply, if the Lakers Lakers don’t have the services of Davis what good is he to the team? With no Davis, the Lakers don’t have any shot at winning another championship ring. 

Yes, the Lakers did win a title with James and Davis in 2020. But that was also a year in which the NBA went into pause mode because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That allowed Davis to heal what ailments he had. The last two seasons have been different with one injury after another for a player dubbed as one of the NBA’s Top 75 players ever. When the Lakers traded for Westbrook, they gave away defensive hawkers in Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

At the moment, the Westbrook experiment hasn’t been as smooth and formidable as it looked on paper. This leads me to my third and final observation. There is no doubt that Westbrook is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

However, the former league MVP has played sporadically and has shown only flashes of being the explosive and spectacular ball-dominant ballhandler we have all seen in the past from him. What we’re seeing in Westbrook is a player who is operating in the capacity of a shell of himself.

That should be fixable whenever he gets up to speed on running the Lakers’ offense. To his credit, Westbrook did produce a triple-double against the Nets with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Westbrook and the Lakers could use some pep in their step. Hopefully, that will all come around sooner rather than later. What the Lakers don’t need is a whole bunch of stats with no victories behind them. They need wins.