It’s been a nightmarish season for the Los Angeles Lakers so far.
At 2-10, they’re one loss away from having the worst record in the league (Rockets are 2-11 as of this writing). They can’t seem to put it all together in nearly every game.
They’re in the second game of their four-game home stand. They get a team who is starting to turn it around from their own horrific campaign, the Brooklyn Nets. They have won four of their last five games. But a lot has happened this year for them. If anything, a ton has happened ever since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined the team.
Steve Nash was axed as head coach after a tumutuous stint. There was an immediate murmur that disgraced Celtics head coach Ime Udoka was going to replace Nash but the Nets couldn’t afford another public relations disaster so they decided to promote assistant coach Jacque Vaughn on a more permanent basis. Vaughn coached the Nets on an interim basis after Kenny Atkinson left the Nets. By the way, Atkinson was supposedly the reason why Durant and Irving went to the team due to his changing the culture of the organization.
And we all know the awful PR the Nets got about Kyrie Irving. Irving is still serving a suspension after he repeatedly refused to answer questions about being antisemitic. Irving has apologized since then. The suspension called for “at least five games” and he’s going into his 6th on Sunday night as he has to “show more” that he’s remorseful over his actions.
On the basketball court itself, the Brooklyn Nets have been far and away much better defensively in the last five games, only allowing a very stingy 95.4 points per 100 possessions. They have climbed into the Top 10 in defensive rating. It definitely isn’t coincidence that the Nets have responded better under new coach Vaughn and without the distraction of Irving.
When you have Kevin Durant on your team, you always have a chance. He’s putting up MVP numbers at 30.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.0 steal a game. Even with all the injuries and the age, he’s still very capable of being the best player in the entire league and the centerpiece of an NBA team.
We all wonder about Ben Simmons. He’s slowly working his way back. When he’s at his best, he’s one of the better defensive players in the league and one of the better playmakers on offense. Of course, you’d want him to be more aggressive offensively but he missed a full season before this. Let’s give it time.
The Nets have always had some capable players. Seth Curry and Joe Harris are also working their way back. Curry recently had back-to-back games of 20+ points) while Harris is still adjusting after an ankle injury that ruled him out for most of last year. Nic Claxton provides size and defense for Brooklyn (currently 4th in blocked shots). Royce O’Neale came over from the Jazz to help with the perimeter defense. And the Nets have youngster Cam Thomas, Edmond Sumner (who has started for Irving), and veteran Patty Mills on their supporting cast.
It was hard to prognosticate about the Nets before the season. The team seems to change drastically every month but at their best, they still look like a team that could go all the way. They’ve certainly looked that way for the last five games. And again, if Kevin Durant is the one leading the charge, anything is possible.
I can’t say the same right now for the Lakers. The Lakers can be capable of winning a game but the list of “This Has To Happen” is growing as time has gone on. Against the Sacramento Kings, they had so many lapses mentally that ended in runs at the end of the first and second halves. A 13-4 flourish by the Kings to finish the first half cost the Lakers. And then an 8-0 stampede by Sactown really put the nail in the coffin. It’s almost like saying something dumb at the end of a first date that cost them a second date. Not that I would know anything about that.
Either way, it sounds like a broken record but the Lakers have to really put on the clamps, especially during crunch time. It sounds basic when I say they have to communicate on defense, don’t stand around on both ends, and go start the offense early but all these things are extremely important. And it’s twofold when it comes to Anthony Davis in the second half. Davis has to demand the ball and dominate the post. And his teammates really have to look for him.
At least, the Lakers have shot three-pointers right above the league average rate at .358 in the last five games. So that’s something. But like I said, they’ve been horrid defensively. In that same five-game period, they are last in defensive rating. So much for that vaunted defense, right?
The Nets, however, just played the Clippers on Saturday afternoon so fatigue may be a factor here. Maybe? We’ll see.
LeBron James is once again out due to an adductor strain. And now there’s this unusual streak that involves James and Durant; they have not played each other since Christmas Day in 2018. So basically, Durant has never played LeBron in a Nets uni. Bizarre indeed.
Anyway, it’s hard to say that, on paper, the Lakers have a good chance of winning against a hot Nets team. This might be a good time for the Lakers to rip that paper, though. Because otherwise, this Lakers team would be written about in more than a piece of paper; they’d be written in the history books in an unflattering manner that would make even the 2015-16 Lakers blush.