Winning and defending championships are hard, especially in the midst of a pandemic. The effects of a long and gruelling season can spill over to the next one, and history has shown that it can potentially derail a team’s season.
To say that the Los Angeles Lakers have been decimated by injuries has been an understatement. Resuming their season a little over two months after an arduous title run, the defending champions looked dominant early on until Anthony Davis and LeBron James missed a significant number of games due to injuries.
It didn’t help that a handful of other Lakers also went down with injuries or had to sit out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, adding to the team’s woes. Shuffling lineups and the accompanying inconsistencies led to a drastic fall in the standings and if the NBA Playoffs began tomorrow, Los Angeles would have to enter the postseason via the play-in tournament.
Yet in every crisis comes a turning point and one may have just presented itself to the Lakers.
In what was perhaps one of their signature wins this season, Los Angeles managed to fend off the Phoenix Suns to clinch a crucial 123-110 victory. The Lakers were firing on all cylinders right out of the gate and never relinquished a lead that ballooned to as many as 23 points.
Davis played what was arguably his best game this season as he was all over the floor, scoring a season-high 42 points from all angles while diving for every loose ball (much to the fears of Laker Nation). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell provided the inside-outside support for Davis, while Alex Caruso did a stellar job in orchestrating the offense with his eight assists.
It was a team effort on the defensive end as Los Angeles forced the Suns to commit 15 turnovers and three players (Davis, Caldwell-Pope, and Caruso) finished with three steals. The 14 offensive rebounds (to Phoenix’s three) also helped limit their opponents’ possessions and highlighted the energy the Lakers brought to this game.
Currently, the Lakers are 38-30 and are looking to be in better shape than last week. They have arguably one of the easier schedules in the league (see table below) and the Portland Trail Blazers, the team they are looking to overtake in the standings, have three games against the top four teams in the Western Conference. They’re also going to see LeBron James for at least a couple of those games, since he’s raring to come back before the end of the regular season.
|Opponent||Date of Next Matchup||Current Seed in Conference||20-21 Season Series||Result of the Last Matchup|
|New York Knicks||May 11||4th (East)||0-1||Loss, 111-96|
|Houston Rockets||May 12||15th (West)||2-0||Win, 117-100|
|Indiana Pacers||May 15||10th (East)||1-0||Win, 105-100|
|New Orleans Pelicans||May 16||11th (West)||1-1||Loss, 128-111|
The Knicks and the Pacers could be particularly tough for the Lakers. The former are coming off a 106-100 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, which would arguably be their own signature win of the season. Meanwhile, the latter has continued to be a pesky opponent for teams, as they have remained competitive and in the hunt for a playoff spot in spite of the injuries affecting them as well.
The Houston Rockets have nothing to play for postseason-wise, but the Pelicans are 1.5 games behind the 10th-seed San Antonio Spurs, and a win would certainly work in their favor. With New Orleans being Davis’ former team and also being led by former Laker Brandon Ingram, there could be some extra meaning to this game as well.
Complicating matters is that the last four games are back-to-back sets. The defending champions could be faced with opting to rest Davis, James, and some of the injured Lakers on particular games and preserve their health for the play-in and/or the postseason.
Los Angeles has been rocked by injuries but they’ve never used it as an excuse. It has, however, made it doubly difficult for them to incorporate new players like Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore. Things will likely get better as they continue to play more games, with plays like this showing the potential a Davis-Drummond combo can have on offense:
Of course this is still a work in progress as you can tell with Drummond’s slight awkwardness in measuring the timing of his pass, but if they continue to work on that, it can eventually look like this:
The Lakers will only go as far as their health takes them and it seems that the team’s fortunes healthwise are turning a corner especially with James set to return soon. With a few games to spare, this could set us up for an entertaining conclusion to the season.
Confidence is a wonderful thing when it is well-placed and the next few games will build into the credence of the Los Angeles Lakers as they approach the crucial stretch of the season so far.