The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night 129-115 to break San Antonio’s 18 game losing streak. Though the Lakers were shorthanded and did not have two of their best players in D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Davis, there is simply no excuse for losing to a team that was 3-20 prior to the contest when you have LeBron James, Austin Reaves, and Rui Hachimura are on the court. Those three players alone should win a game against any of the bottom-feeder teams including the rebuilding Spurs. However, as I mentioned in my write up on Tuesday, the Lakers have a lot of trouble winning basketball games if they start off slow. They were down 42-22 at the end of the 1st quarter and though there were many impressive comeback attempts (they got within 4 with a minute to go before halftime and later within 7 in the 4th quarter), being down 20 was simply too high of a mountain to climb.
Here are my three takeaways from the game:
This Lakers team reminds me a lot of the 2020 Lakers team that won an NBA title in the sense that when they start off strong and command a lead for most of the game, they will almost certainly hold on for a victory. However, that 2020 team started off almost every game strong and led after the first quarter, and as a result they were near impossible to beat. Almost every single one of the Lakers losses this season has been because of a slow start where they were down at the end of the first quarter, and Friday night was no different. Defensively, everyone knew the Lakers wouldn’t be the same without Defensive Player of The Year candidate and NBA Superstar Anthony Davis. However, giving up 42 points in the first quarter just after allowing 45 points in the 4th quarter to the same team two nights before is simply unacceptable for a team thats identity is defense.
There was a lack of intensity from the get go and it just felt like the Lakers thought they had it in the bag and could use pure talent alone and ride on James’ back to a victory without working for it. That obviously wasn’t the case and the 20 point deficit at the end of the first quarter was just too vast to mount a full comeback. Obviously this is an entire different article that I’m writing if Davis plays, but the Lakers have to be able to find ways to compete on the defensive end without him otherwise they’ll suffer in the playoffs when things get undoubtedly difficult.
There were two moments when the Lakers got within striking distance and had a chance to continue gaining momentum and Christian Wood drew a foul. The only problem was he ended up missing three out of four crucial free throws that really hurt the Lakers chances at completing a comeback. Though Wood shot 6-10 from the floor and provided 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks, he went 3-8 from the free throw line and lacked intensity on the defensive end in the second half as well. Wood isn’t seen as the best defender in the world and no one was expecting him to slot in for Anthony Davis and match what he does defensively, but a little more effort on both ends of the floor in big moments is needed in a game like this for the Lakers to pull off a victory shorthanded.
If people somehow didn’t already know how important Anthony Davis is to the Lakers, then Friday’s loss to the Spurs illustrated exactly how. Without Davis on the defensive end, the Spurs got whatever they wanted inside and that allowed more open looks from beyond the arc as a result. The Lakers had to switch and over commit on the interior and wide open shooters such as Cedi Osman and Devin Vassell knocked down a plethora of 3’s as a result. I am not saying by any means that the Spurs wouldn’t have made a ton of 3’s if Davis had been playing, but it certainly would have been much tougher. Davis’ presence and versatility on the defensive end alone allows flexibility in defensive rotations just knowing Davis can protect the rim and also come out to the perimeter and use his length to defend a wing if need be.
On the offensive end Davis is also the key to everything. Offensive rebounds that turn into second chance points, silky mid-range shots, highlight post moves and dunks, and making the extra pass from the center position are all things that Davis is elite at that no other Lakers big can come close to replicating. On Wednesday night the Lakers coasted to a 3 point victory that really should have been a 20+ point victory if it wasn’t for a near epic collapse at the end of the game. If James had been healthy for that game, it would have been a 20+ point victory because when the Lakers have a lead late, LeBron doesn’t let it dwindle too often. Nonetheless, they had Davis in that game and his 37 points and elite defense put them over the top ultimately for a victory. They had no inside presence on Friday night because of the absence of Davis and that is always a recipe for disaster when you have a team that relies on inside scoring and lacks 3-point shooting.
Instead of finishing the week off with a 2-1 record, the Lakers went 1-2 and have a lot to think about after dropping a close game to the Mavericks on Tuesday and suffering a bad loss to the Spurs on Friday. They will try to get back on track Monday against the Knicks at home.