If they were of a mind, and healthy enough, the Los Angeles Lakers could send out onto the court a team of five players who either are guaranteed spots in the Hall of Fame, or have a real good chance of getting there.
The Lakers played in Miami this past Sunday afternoon in Miami, and the five future immortals of the game – LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard – had a combined plus-minus total of minus-51. And it was only halftime. Anthony Davis (out for more than a month with a sprained left knee) was spared the embarrassment.
It wasn’t supposed to be anything like this. Bad enough that LeBron and LA were forced to endure the embarrassment of being part of the Play-In Tournament last season. This season they may have again to hustle to avoid being participants in the gimmick. Peasants are supposed to bow to royalty, not the other way around.
But here they are, under .500 after the weekend’s play, with a losing record on the road, a losing record in the conference, closer to last place than to first in the West, and scoring fewer points per game than their opponents. They’re 2-5 SU and also 2-5 ATS in their last seven, and their defense is so bad that 7 of their last 9 games have gone Over.
The Lakers are the oldest team in an NBA that celebrates its youth. They average out to over 30 years old per, and of late they have often appeared to be twice that, especially on the defensive end. Against the Heat, Trevor Ariza and backup center Dwight Howard had a grand total of zero points in 27 minutes. Westbrook scored 24, but much of it was after the game had been decided.
Having so many vets and so little youth is no doubt a move to placate James, who himself is starting to accumulate aches and pains after so many indestructible seasons. James is actually having a solid offensive season – he’s averaging nearly 29 ppg, which if it holds would be his best offensive year since 2009-10. And that’s playing every position on the court, even center in Davis’s absence.
As a franchise the Lakers are not a patient bunch, so they are a team to watch as the trade deadline nears. But what to trade? Talen Horton-Tucker might have a little value, but beyond him, the bench consists of the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Wayne Ellington, and Kent Bazemore, all of whom are just collecting checks at this point in their careers.
If the roster remains pretty much intact through the Feb. 10 trade deadline, that could be bad news for coach Frank Vogel. One betting line had Vogel no better than even money to finish the season. Like several other teams battling injuries and player absences due to Covid, the front office most likely wants to see what it has when the gang is all together (Davis is due back any day). Jettisoning Vogel might keep the fan base from all-out revolt.
Meanwhile, in Miami, the Heat took their foot off the accelerator late in the game but still managed to defeat the Lakers and cover the number. Getting the game to where it was winnable (LA cut the lead to four in the final minutes) cost James 40 more game minutes on his 37-year-old legs.
Thirty-five more games remained on a Laker schedule that often resembles Hour 36 of a 1930s-era dance marathon. Oddsmakers had set LA’s win total at 51.5 for the season, and there’s no way they’re going to get past that number. The next stop is Brooklyn, and while the Nets have had their own share of problems, especially with Kevin Durant now out, they are nothing like what the Lakers are going through.