In an era of discontent and deeply partisan politics, it’s not often that Americans are able to experience moments when the nation comes together with a common interest. That’s why it has been such a sight to see people from all walks of life on one common accord. Men and women, blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives have all joined together to tap dance on the grave of the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff aspirations.
Through 64 games, the Lakers record sits at a ho-hum 30-34. That places the Lakers at 10th (tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves) in the Western Conference. With only 18 games remaining in the regular season, LeBron James and Co. find themselves five-and-a-half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
While the team is not technically eliminated from playoff contention, it would take a spectacular late-season run to turn around the team’s fortunes. That seems implausible considering that over the last 10 games, the Lakers record is 3-7.
James’ recent body language, defensive effort and somber post-game interviews suggest that after eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the “King” has resigned to the fact that he will get an early vacation for the first time since 2005. That season, he was just 20-years-old.
Over the past week, social media feeds have been filled with articles, memes, gifs, talking screaming heads, video clips and jokes at the Lakers’ expense.
“What’s wrong with LeBron?”
“Let’s stop the Jordan comparisons now, LeBron is finished!”
“Is this your KING?!?!?!”
Let’s not kid ourselves though. From a personal standpoint, James is having a remarkable season. Check the numbers. Number 23 is averaging 27 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. Those numbers are trailing but not too far off from MVP frontrunners Giannis Antetokounmpo (27 points, 12.6 rebounds and 6 assists) and James Harden (36.7 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds).
The big difference is that the Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA and the Houston Rockets have surged into a tie with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third-best record in the West.
Many point to James’ lack of consistent effort on the defensive end as a reason for the team’s shortcomings. However, James has often rested on the defensive side of the ball for the past few seasons. Aside from highlight reel chase down blocks at key moments, James hasn’t been an elite defender for a while.
In addition to the much-discussed Anthony Davis trade deadline debacle, the Lakers organization can blame its futility on two gigantic problems and neither is James’ level of play.
Injuries have taken a great toll on the team’s record. James has missed 18 games due to injury or rest. Other key players missing a significant amount time are Rajon Rondo (34 games), Brandon Ingram (12 games) and Lonzo Ball (17 games). Without a consistent lineup, it’s been difficult for the Lakers to gain any sort of consistency on the court.
An even greater obstacle to the Lakers’ success has been the lack of shooters surrounding its centerpiece. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took a lot of flak during the offseason for its questionable offseason acquisitions. James thrived in Cleveland the past few seasons by being surrounded by shooters. However, the Lakers “other” big free agent signings were Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee. That’s not exactly the “Splash Brothers.”
Though Rondo, Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are passable deep shooters, James has been the team’s only reliable three-point threat for most of the season. Reggie Bullock, a 38.5 percent three-point shooter this season, wasn’t acquired until the trade deadline.
James is the only player on the roster averaging at least two three-pointers made per game. For comparison’s sake, the Rockets currently have four players knocking down least two treys per night, including Harden with 4.6. The Bucks have three players that fit the bill.
In a three-point shooting era, the current form of the Lakers just weren’t built for success this season. To quote Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were.”
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the deep and talented Western Conference foes didn’t let them off the hook.
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