Why the Los Angeles Lakers could be the Boston Celtics (from last year) this season.
A year ago the Boston Celtics entered the month of February with a 27-25 record, lingering among the teams battling for a play-in berth. During that rough time in Bean-Town, there were numerous players-only meetings.
Specifically, Marcus Smart let his frustrations be known to the media multiple times.
There were even murmurs of splitting up the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown tandem.
Then, all of a sudden things flipped.
Boston closed the season winning 24 of their final 30 games and entered the postseason as the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics then went on to sweep Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, come back from a 3-2 series deficit and defeat the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, and eek their way past the Miami Heat in a hard-fought seven-game series in the Conference Finals to reach the NBA Championship.
With how jam-packed each conference is this season, especially in the West where the fourth-seeded LA Clippers and the 13th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers are separated by just four games, we could see a team make a similar type to last year’s Celtics.
The question then becomes: Which team is capable of flipping that switch and turning their season around?
Let’s look no further than those aforementioned Los Angeles Lakers.
After starting the season 2-10, with back-to-back five-game losing streaks, the Lakers have since gone 23-18.
Four of those 18 losses came in overtime. If those four overtime losses were victories, the Lakers would be in prime position to host a first-round playoff series. That’s how incredibly tight the Western Conference is.
One or two good weeks from the Lakers could put them right back in contention in the West. This is crazy to consider with how poor the season started for them and all the injuries they have dealt with this season.
Anthony Davis has played in 29 of the Lakers’ 52 games this season. LeBron has missed 11 games. Patrick Bevelery, Dennis Schroder, Lonnie Walker IV, and Austin Reaves, all key rotational guys for LA, have all missed 10 or more games. In fact, the only players on the Lakers roster who have missed less than 10 games this season are Russell Westbrook and Troy Brown Jr.
First-year head coach Davin Ham has had to roll out 26 different starting lineups so far this season because of all those injuries. That’s half of their games played so far.
The Lakers simply haven’t been healthy all season and their record represents that.
On the bright side for Lakers fans, they are starting to get healthier.
AD returned from injury and has picked up right where he left off before he went down. Lonnie Walker IV has also returned to action, and Austin Reaves is set to be reevaluated this Thursday.
Along with getting healthier, the Lakers also were the first team to make a trade this deadline by acquiring Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks.
It’s still way too early to tell, but so far this trade has been a home run for LA. Rui has fit in nicely alongside LeBron and AD. He’s provided a much-needed boost to a rather dire offense as a scoring threat outside of LeBron and AD.
With that being said, Rui Hachimura is not going to be the reason the Lakers turn their season around.
Health is what will save the Lakers’ season.
In order to have any shot of making the postseason, LeBron and AD need to be healthy. It’s an obvious point, but still true nonetheless.
Along with health, the Lakers need to make more adjustments to this roster. As mentioned earlier, Rui Hachimura isn’t the missing piece to the puzzle. The Lakers need A LOT more help.
The main area in which LA need’s to address is shooting.
The Lakers rank dead last in three-pointers made per game (10.5) and own the fifth-worst three-point shooting percentage (33.7). They need at least one three-point shooting threat so the lane isn’t always clogged for LeBron and Russell Westbrook, and teams can’t just double AD in the post and force LA to beat them from the outside where they have struggled all season.
The most successful LeBron-led teams all had shooting around him. This team does not. General manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office need to address this before the deadline and/or in the buy-out market if this team wants to have any shot of winning a title, let alone making it to the playoffs.
So, can the Lakers turn it around and have a similar season arc to last year’s Celtics?
Maybe, but probably not.
It’s hard to count out LeBron with how incredible he is playing in his 20th season. 30.2 points per game at 38 years old is beyond remarkable. Even if you hate LeBron it’s impossible not to marvel at the things he’s still doing at the ripe age of 38. But that’s the thing, he’s 38 years old and in his 20th season in the NBA! He can’t do it alone.
One would be wise to point to Anthony Davis and say LeBron does indeed have help, but AD has become a meme at this point with how often he’s injured. When he’s on the court he’s incredible, but he’s seemingly always hurt or dealing with some sort of injury. In his four seasons as a Laker, AD has played in more than 42 games (half the season) in just one of those seasons which was his very first season. For whatever reason, he can’t stay on the floor.
Even if those two guys are healthy, their roster is still incredibly flawed. It is filled with unproven role players who wouldn’t sniff much playing time for championship-contending teams such as the Celtics, Nuggets, or Grizzlies.
LeBron and AD may be good enough to carry LA into the play-in and advance to the postseason, but making a run to the title with this roster is a mountain too steep for even LeBron James to climb.