It’s hard to blame the Lakers for clinging to the slightest of hopes that their 2021-22 campaign will have an ending markedly different from what they seem dated to experience. Even at eight games under .500 with just 16 matches to go, they continue to believe they have a chance to make a significant dent in the playoffs. Considering that they’ve won in only three of their last 10 outings, and that their two victories in three weeks needed otherworldly efforts from 37-year-old LeBron James and overwhelming support from partisan fans at crypto.com
That said, what else can the Lakers do? Far be it for them to throw in the proverbial towel when their wounds have been largely self-inflicted. Fresh off a season in which their bid to defend their championship in the bubble was derailed by a cacophony of injuries to vital cogs, they went about upending their roster in an all-or-nothing gamble. Never mind that history appeared to telegraph the results. They forgot the aphorism about glitter and gold not always going hand in hand. And, in the case of Russell Westbrook, the fact that they do not was in plain sight. But James was so blinded by prospects as to turn away from proof, and the purple and gold have been paying for it.
The signs are clear, though. Even assuming for a moment that Anthony Davis, the other member of the so-called Big Three, is able to recover fully from a right ankle sprain that has had him sidelined since the middle of last month, the Lakers don’t stand a chance against the league elite. They hadn’t claimed half their games with him around, and there’s no reason to insist that they’ll suddenly be greater than the sum of their parts with out without him in uniform. The problems are fundamental; Westbrook’s weaknesses are accentuated by his close-to-nonexistent chemistry with James. In their set-to against the otherwise-hapless Wizards, example, they thrived best in the crunch with him on the bench.
What a waste, really, and one the Lakers can ill afford with James close to succumbing to the ravages of time. He’s doing his best to fend off the inevitable, to be sure, hence his offensive binges and flirtation with the scoring title. But because recovery from grueling battles takes longer at his age, he comes up with clunkers as well. His two half-century marks, for instance, sandwiched a relatively poor performance that had him passing up the game-winning shot while under the basket.
And therein lies the rub. Given the state of the Lakers, James cannot have an off-night. He simply has to be at his best just for them to have an opportunity to walk away with the win. Who’s to say how they would have done had they not pulled the trigger on the supposed deal of the off-season? Nonetheless, they would most definitely not be fighting for survival this late were they able to stay put. The good news is that he’s not giving up. The bad news is that, at this point, even his best may not be good enough.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.