The Atlanta Hawks just scored 70 points on the Lakers in the first half of their game on Tuesday. (FYI, the Hawks are not good and they won 117-113.) And did you see that 42-point blowout by the Sixers last week? What is going on with the Lakers and Lebron James right now? Is there time to right the ship in Los Angeles before the postseason? Heck, will the ship even make it to the postseason?
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Is Lebron to Blame?
The Lakers have missed the playoffs for five years running, but the King was supposed to change that. But with every young guy on this Lakers team labeled “trade bait” last week, is their locker room poisoned? It’s no secret that playing on a team with Lebron has its challenges, but is he creating too much stress for his team? Are his expectations unrealistically high for this year’s squad? Here’s what we know…
Well, their chemistry is certainly off. Sure, Lebron is finally back from that groin injury he sustained back at Christmas. But is his presence hurting his team? He wants the Lakers to win no matter the stakes, whether trades have to be made or not, and this creates an urgency and stress for everyone around him. Before Lebron’s injury, the Lakers were the fourth seed in the West and their chemistry was improving, but now their future is looking a bit murky. With a record of 28-29, they’re only two and a half games out of the playoffs, but with rumors swirling that head coach Luke Walton might get fired, has their season been sabotaged already?
Lebron puts pressure on whatever franchise he’s part of. He made it clear that he wanted Anthony Davis, and what the Lakers offered up while chasing him (ie, everything) alienated the younger players on this team. They still desperately want to acquire a new superstar to play alongside James, but it hasn’t happened for them yet. Meanwhile, they’ve got a great supporting cast that includes Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball, who may not exactly feel valued right now.
According to Kuzma, “We have to approach the rest of the season just like you would during the playoffs.” Of course, he said that just before their disaster of a game against the Hawks.
Their loss to the Sixers was the worst in Lebron’s career. And that loss to the Atlanta Hawks happened despite a triple-double and 28 points by a newly healthy Lebron. Are the young guys refusing to play ball? Is there still distrust in the air? Or is it simply a matter of chemistry? President of basketball operations Magic Johnson says these young players aren’t babies, this is just how the league works, and they know it. Going after Anthony Davis was most likely a good move for the Lakers. Every team is trying to get themselves to the next level.
Johnson also hinted that Coach Walton isn’t going anywhere unless something “drastic” happens. Others are saying Walton is being set up as a scapegoat for the mistakes of Lebron, front office management, and other players. To Walton’s credit, he has been faced with a lot of injuries this season so his coaching hasn’t been totally to blame for their plethora of losses.
After that loss to the Hawks, Walton told reporters, “I think this first part of the season we’ve gone through a lot of adversity as a group and we’re probably not where we want to be, but we’re still close enough… We’ve got a challenge ahead of us coming back after All-Star, and we’ve got some work to do, but I think we have a group that’s up for that challenge and will look forward to attacking that when we get back.”
Meanwhile, after giving up on Davis last week, the Lakers moved on to solidify the acquisitions of Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala at the trade deadline. And hey, despite a terrible loss in that Hawks game, Bullock did put up 15 points and five rebounds in his 35 minutes of playing time for his new team. It’s still TBD how these new players will change the chemistry of the Lakers on the court for the rest of the season… but it looks like it might’ve been a good move.
At 10th in the Western Conference, can the Lakers get it together and make the playoffs? Or will Lebron be forced to sit out this postseason for the first time in a loonnnng time? Guess we’ll just have to keep watching!