The first 12 games of the ‘21-’22 NBA Season for the Los Angeles Lakers have been frustrating to watch for their fanbase, but nothing short of entertaining for the rest of us basketball junkies.
Despite a winless preseason and back-to-back losses to kick off the regular season, the Lakers now find themselves with a respectable 7-5 win-loss record that has been highlighted by several contests that have gone down to the wire. They have been decent, even with LeBron James appearing in only half of their games, and are still trying to figure out one another following an eventful offseason that brought in several new faces led by Russell Westbrook.
Even without James though, Los Angeles still has the talent to theoretically allow them to blow out weaker teams on paper and cruise to easy victories. This makes all of the unnecessary late game drama that they have brought upon themselves early in the season even more confounding. Los Angeles’ games have all been rather tight, save for their embarrassing 105-90 loss to the Portland Trailblazers that was not as close as the final score suggests.
Their two wins against the rebuilding Houston Rockets, both at the Staples Center, had a combined lead of just 12 points. James suited up in both of those games and what should have been easy wins that would have afforded their veterans a lighter workload turned into hard-fought games.
Those two meetings versus the Rockets, which still resulted in wins, are easily forgivable when contrasted with their pair of losses at home to the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers led the first encounter by 26 points before squandering their advantage and losing by eight, 123-115, to give Oklahoma City their first win of the year. A week later, they seemed intent on avenging their loss, building a 19-point lead in the first half, until they lost their focus once again and lost by three, 107-104.
These games have perfectly encapsulated the first few weeks of the season for Los Angeles. They have had no problem stringing together brief stretches of brilliance where they look like legitimate championship contenders. Anthony Davis has averaged 23.9 points and 11.1 rebounds this season while Russell Westbrook has slowly rounded into form, improving his nightly numbers to 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists.
Unfortunately, they have been a team of extremes for most of this season, often following up those few minutes where they look like the best team in the league with spurts where one might suspect that they were trying to lose their games on purpose.
However, two matches into their five-game homestand, it seems like they have finally discovered a middle ground. The Lakers managed to escape with two overtime wins over quality teams that were full of drama, yet promising in the grand scheme of things. They outlasted the Charlotte Hornets, 126-123, then eked out a 120-117 win over the Miami Heat in a rematch of the 2020 NBA Finals.
Davis was dominant versus the Hornets with 32 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and five blocks and Westbrook chipped in with one of his signature triple doubles, racking up 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 14 assists. Carmelo Anthony stepped up and filled the void left by James as the 37-year-old forward came off the bench to hit seven three pointers en route to scoring 29 points.
Against the Heat, Davis (24 points and 13 rebounds) and Westbrook (25 points, 12 rebounds, and 14 assists) came to play once again, but the star of the night was reserve guard Malik Monk. Acquired this past offseason after playing his first four seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Monk lit up the Heat with 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to finish with 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
In the absence of James, Westbrook and Davis have developed an effective two-man game. It has helped bail out the Lakers in their two most recent wins, allowing them to avoid the dry spells that led to their earlier losses. Late in their match-up with the Heat, Westbrook found Davis on a couple of nifty alley-oops that helped them eventually win the game.
These two already have immense gravity on their own that commands the attention of opposing defenses, but their budding chemistry has amplified that and opened up the floor for the rest of their team. Anthony and Monk have been the most recent beneficiaries of this and James will definitely take advantage once he returns to the line-up.
The Lakers still leave much to be desired, although the recent developments have been noteworthy. Their losses have been plagued by a stagnant fourth quarter offense, but their two most recent wins over a pair of formidable teams is an encouraging sign that they may have figured out that problem.
As Westbrook and Davis continue to grow more comfortable with one another, this team will only become more dangerous. The return of James will understandably bring up questions of whether he can successfully co-exist with Westbrook at the same time, but a player of his caliber and basketball IQ should be able to seamlessly return to the floor and boost this team further.
Los Angeles has played a rather easy schedule to begin the season which has helped them to ease into things, and now that it seems like they have found their footing, their fanbase is hopeful that their games become a little less dramatic and the wins start coming with more comfortable margins.