The reigning NBA champions have hit their rock bottom earlier this week when they lost their fourth game in a row on Wednesday. Los Angeles put up little resistance in a 114-89 loss at the red-hot Utah Jazz despite being an 8.5-point underdog. That was the Lakers’ fifth loss in six games after Anthony Davis went out with an Achilles’ injury.
Yet not all “rock bottoms” are the same. It is usually wise to not overreact when good teams struggle in the dog days of the NBA regular season especially when the All-Star Game is approaching. Losing Davis took away one of the Lakers’ top two players. LeBron James looks tired after playing every game averaging almost 35 minutes per contest.
There is an understanding in professional sports that the defending champion always gets their opponent’s best effort. Despite losing five of six (before winning their last two games), only one of the losses would be considered “bad.” Losing at Denver as a 3-point favorite is forgivable. Losing at home to the new-look Brooklyn Nets with James Harden and Kyrie Irving (even without Kevin Durant) as a 3-point favorite is understandable. Getting beaten by Miami as a 3.5-point favorite in their first opportunity to avenge their loss in the NBA Finals might have been expected. Few observers gave the Lakers much of a chance than against the red-hot Jazz in Utah as an 8.5-point underdog. Only a loss to Washington does not look very good in the rearview mirror, yet in that game, Los Angeles took their foot off the gas pedal by blowing a 17-point lead. Sometimes that happens on a Monday night in February.
Our Western Conference Game of the Month was on Friday with the Lakers hosting Portland. Help was on the way with Dennis Schroder returning from COVID quarantine. His absence in the previous four games has cost Los Angeles a reliable scorer and a second starter along with Davis. He was averaging 14.2 points-per-game before entering quarantine.
Just getting Schroder back on the court made a significant difference. He scored 22 points against the Trail Blazers in helping Los Angeles win, 102-93, and cover the 5-point spread. Schroder’s efforts on defense should not be dismissed either. The Lakers held the Blazers to just 39.1% shooting. Schroder running the point on offense helped Los Angeles get to the free-throw line 28 times where they made 21 attempts.
Strong defense and getting to the charity stripe was the recipe on Sunday as well in the Lakers’ 117-91 victory at home against Golden State. LA held the Warriors to 41% shooting. They got to the free-throw line 38 times resulting in 26 points. Schroder contributed 12 points while dishing out six assists. Racing out to a 73-44 lead at halftime allowed for James to only play for under 25 minutes in the game.
Los Angeles may not repeat as NBA champions this spring but that is a May and perhaps June problem. Until then, don’t worry. Pick your spots when betting the Lakers in the regular season, just as they pick their spots to exert a little more effort. LeBron James is playing the long game.
Good luck - TDG.