NBA

The Lakers are wasting the greatness of LeBron James and the Christmas loss is another reminder

The Lakers are wasting the greatness of LeBron James and the Christmas loss is another reminder

Christmas has long been the day of the marquee N.B.A regular season The slate of games showcases the league’s best teams and brightest stars and franchises.

The Christmas board is also one of the main narrative engines of the year. And those who tuned in lakers during their 124-115 loss against the Mavericks Sunday in Dallas witnessed a tragic reminder of the way James’ Hall of Fame career appears to be ending in Los Angeles.

James scored 38 points (on 13-of-23 shooting) against Dallas, one shy of his season-high seven against the spurs on Nov. 26, adding six rebounds and five assists in his record-breaking 17th game on Christmas Day. When he checked out at 2:32 of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were plus-2 in the 34 minutes he played and minus-18 in the 12 minutes he sat.

Individual plus-minus doesn’t always reflect the story of a game, but in this case it does.

without Anthony Davis, who is out indefinitely with a stress injury to his right foot, the Lakers simply don’t have much of a chance when James is off the floor. They’ve lost four straight, allowing at least 124 points in each loss, and are 1-4 since Davis’ injury, dropping to 13-20 overall and 13th in the West.

The final score did not indicate how the game actually played out for much of the second half. And with four more games to go on their five-game road trip, they risk falling further down the standings.

When asked if he thinks the Lakers are resilient enough to get out of their predicament, James offered a candid assessment.

“I think I see it that way,” James said. “I look at it the other way too, like, how many times are you going to try to dig yourself out until you get too much dirt?”

James, who has occasionally expressed concern with the roster throughout the season, has become increasingly critical in recent postgame sessions since Davis’ injury.

“The reality is without AD, we lose a lot of length, which we don’t have yet,” James said. “So we have to compensate in a way that, without AD, is very difficult, very challenging. So I think at one point we had a formation of Crec (Austin Reaves) was the tallest man on the court. So you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.”

James has been forthright about the team’s lack of shooting and size. There have also been subtle knocks to the team’s collective talent. The subtext of his message, of course, is that the Lakers’ roster could benefit from a much-needed upgrade from the front office via a trade (or two). And it’s hard to disagree with James’ judgment or his application of pressure.

After a slow start, James is certainly doing his part, scoring 30+ goals in seven consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NBA.

It continues to break and set records with unprecedented longevity. Among many notable examples to choose from this season, he has already surpassed Magic Johnson in career assists, and will likely pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list in the next month and a half.

But James’ 20th season, like his 19th, is essentially being wasted on a seemingly lottery-bound Lakers team. There have been glimmers of optimism, but like last season, the team has largely fallen short of the expectations set in the first two seasons of the James-Davis partnership.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who in most cases tends toward the middle, acknowledged the “difficult circumstances” facing James, in particular, amid the team’s struggles.

“Phenomenal,” Ham said of James’ work. “My hat’s off to him. He raced his ass off. It’s tough times right now, tough circumstances. But at the end of the day, you know, we’ve just got to move on. He’s the prime example of that. Just his ability to come out game after game and put on the kind of performances he’s doing, he really tries to coach and teach the guys in the process of being on the court, playing with them. Throwing ideas our way. Letting himself be coached .

“A lot of guys in this position, everyone doesn’t let themselves be coached. He takes off his hat. His leadership has been proven.”

The game started in an encouraging way for the Lakers. They doubled up Luka Doncic, limiting their offensive performance and forcing the rest of the Mavericks to try to beat them. Dallas shooters open with open look boards after open look, throwing several. The Lakers played with fire and pulled through. They led 54-43, rotating pretty well and cornering the Mavericks offense, for the most part.

But the third quarter, which has been the Lakers’ worst this season, featured a volcanic eruption of historic proportions. Dallas scored 51 points, the fourth-highest scoring Christmas in NBA history and the best mark in the league this season.

Dončić (32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) separated them from the post, Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 of his 26 points in the quarter) drilled several 3-and Christian Wood (career-high 30 points, seven assists) dominated in the paint as a roller, passer and offensive rebounder. Dallas made nine of 13 3s in the quarter, 72 percent overall.

The Lakers unraveled, as they have often done in second halves and critical moments this season. In 12 minutes, they went from up 11 points to down 19.

“They countered what we were doing in the half,” James said. “We didn’t make the right adjustments once they made the adjustments.”

Part of the remarkable streak stemmed from Dončić’s brilliance and the impossible problems a defense faces. The Mavericks have loaded their roster with shots to complement Dončić’s style of play.

“If you see the same coverage over and over and over again, at some point you’re going to know when you have a higher basketball IQ than Luka, obviously,” James said, referring to the lack of adjustments of the team in the second half. times

But a big part of the Mavericks’ success also comes from the fact that the Lakers’ supporting cast is largely unreliable, and there aren’t many players Ham trusts who are taller than 6-foot-5.

Ham continues to roll out the 6-foot-1 Patrick Beverley alongside the 6-foot-1 Dennis Schroeder as the opening backing track, a combination that hasn’t worked. The Lakers are already undersized, but Ham tends to favor his smaller players in an attempt to stop the bleeding, even if it results in too many offensive rebounds and easy points in the paint.

One of those ends was when Ham used Westbrook (6-foot-3) at center, along with Reaves (6-foot-5), Lonnie Walker IV (6-foot-4), Schröder and Beverley. This is probably the smallest lineup any team has used this season. The group went -1 in about two minutes in the fourth quarter.

“You throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” Ham said. “It’s one of those types of situations. The AD is not here, not in the lineup. We’re not going to start using that as an excuse. Yes, it’s a big hole in our lineup. But now, we are professionals. We have to take a step.”

Regardless of the circumstances, Ham has maintained a confident exterior. For him, there’s always something more the coaching staff or players can be doing to fix things.

But James’ patience seems to be wearing thin as the clock ticks down on his legendary battle with Father Time.

This season, James is averaging 27.8 points, 0.4 more than Davis, on 49.6 percent shooting, along with 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He does it in 36.1 minutes per game, tied for 14th in the league. For reference, Kobe Bryant averaged 28.2 minutes per game in his 20th season. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 22.9 minutes in his 20th. Vince Carter averaged 17.7 minutes.

Basically, James is in unprecedented territory not only with his production but also with his workload.

It’s hard to bet against James with the way he’s defied the aging traditional athlete, but at some point, the toll will inevitably take its toll. If Davis misses a few more weeks, the increased load it will take to handle his absence is too much for James, who will turn 38 on Dec. 30. There simply isn’t another star player or a great fit for Ham. resort to.

Reinforcements via trade would obviously help, and the Lakers are still evaluating their options in a dormant trade market. At the same time, it’s increasingly difficult to justify trading a first-round pick if the group continues to struggle. The front office doesn’t want to compound their previous mistakes with more win moves now.

There are many parts of the guilt pie to share. Among them, James obviously has some culpability on the part of building the roster considering his notable input, such as supporting the Westbrook trade, that he has had over the past few seasons.

It’s hard to see one of the biggest players in the game, with so much greatness left in the tank, going out with a whimper instead of a bang.

“At the end of the day, I love playing basketball,” James said of how this year has been for him. “I still enjoy going out and playing in front of the fans, whether it’s at home or on the road. And I’m just trying to control what I can control.

“I show up, try to lead these guys and try to lead to wins and obviously there have been times when it’s been frustrating. There have been times when I have been happy. There have been times where I’ve been like, “Okay, we can do better here,” or whatever. But I always try to stay the same.”

(Photo by lebron james: Jerome Miron / USA Today)





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