“The big picture is that it was pretty much a must-win for us, and we didn’t get the job done,” LeBron James noted in the aftermath of a disappointing homestand against the Pelicans. The Lakers most certainly tried to go for the win, with the National Basketball Association’s leading scorer and Anthony Davis, his eight-time All-Star teammate, suiting up despite ailments that would have otherwise kept them sidelined. Unfortunately, they ran out of gas in the crunch. Up by five with five minutes and change left to play in the fourth quarter, they managed to score only seven points the rest of the way; worse, they spread the welcome mat for the visitors, who put up 15 in the same period.
Creditably, James and Davis gamely answered queries as they sat side by side in their post-game presser. Just as they did on the floor, they gave their all until there was no more to give. And as on the floor, their best wasn’t good enough. Considering the tenor of their replies, they might as well have seen fit to record themselves in early January for future use; the same old, same old came out of their mouths, emanating from the same old, same old outcomes. There was a time when their combined stat line of 61 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists would have been more than enough to carry the Lakers to victory. Not anymore.
Because the 10th-running Spurs carry the tie-break, the Lakers will need to all but sweep their last five regular-season contests merely to get in the play-in tournament. Considering that they had title aspirations prior to the start of their 2021-22 campaign, the development underscores the extent to which they have fallen. And while injuries have admittedly handicapped them, their concerns are fundamental in nature and attributable in large measure to their uneven roster. In hindsight, it’s fair to argue that they doomed themselves in the off-season by gambling on the Russell Westbrook experiment even in the face of ample proof that it would pay out poorly.
And so the Lakers are now left with nothing but hope to cling to. Davis argued that it was something else. “I don’t think it’s hope. We don’t play off hope and ‘let’s hope we win this game.’ We have belief, and I believe,” he contended. “We’ve got to go out and get it done. It’s that simple.“ Except that it’s not, as they’ve proven over and over and over again. That said, James stuck to the same mindset, pointing out that “until [our standing] says we’re eliminated, it doesn’t. Until that moment, we’ll know what our destiny is. But right now, we don’t. So [we] keep pushing forward.” To what, and for what purpose, however, all and sundry already know too well.
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.