Seven days into 2024, the Los Angeles Lakers were finally able to hold on for a victory.
Production beyond Anthony Davis and LeBron James has been a guessing game but against the Los Angeles Clippers, they were able to get more contributions from their teammates. Davis and James continued to carry the bulk of the scoring and rebounding, but the likes of Taurean Prince and the returning D’Angelo Russell made big baskets, helping the Lakers avert another collapse.
The win itself was a sigh of relief for Laker Nation, but it may not be enough to mask the issues that have recently hounded Los Angeles. Davis has maintained his fine play in the new year, while James continues to do things not a lot of 39-year olds can do.
However, the losses were piling up, especially following the Lakers’ run to the In-Season Tournament championship. Was it Los Angeles running out of steam? Was the roster construction great only on paper? Those were among the questions that surrounded the Lakers during their horrid stretch. It was clear that they knew they sucked, but recognizing one’s shortcomings and doing something about it are two different things.
Shooting remains a frail part of Los Angeles’ game even if they’re last in the NBA in 3-point attempts. It’s great, though, that the Lakers are focused on inside scoring given their potential in the frontcourt and their penchant for getting to the free throw line (24.0 attempts per game, good for 10th in the league). Los Angeles being solid in the interior naturally gives them an advantage in rim protection and rebounds, but it’s surprising that the Lakers are third to last in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (8.5).
Being an inside scoring, power-based team is certainly a great way for Los Angeles to wear teams out over the course of a long NBA season, but it’s easier said than done when one’s roster is not only an aging one, but one that is also injury-prone. James is closer to 40 than some NBA stars are closer to 30 and we don’t need to elaborate on Davis’ injury history or even the likes of Jarred Vandebilt or Gabe Vincent, who has spent more time on the bench than off it.
The Lakers’ next five games won’t also be a cakewalk as games against the below .500 teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz are mixed with games against the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and the OKC Thunder, who are currently third in the Western Conference. Being healthy is one thing, but avoiding digging an unnecessary hole would make the path to and in the postseason an easier one for the Lakers.
The breakthrough 2024 victory finally came to the Los Angeles Lakers a week into the new year, but the concerns from their four-game slump have not dissipated. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played before the postseason, but that doesn’t mean they should take every chance they have right now for granted.