The Los Angeles Lakers have suffered another loss, falling to the Milwaukee Bucks after a blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls. As good as Los Angeles looked at times, they are not as well put together as the Bulls are. While LeBron James’ absence is a major reason for the team’s struggles, there is no doubt that the Lakers should be playing better than they are. After all, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are both superstar players who were named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.
For two top-75 players, Davis and Westbrook have not performed up to par without The King. LeBron is the greatest leader and passer in today’s game, so it will be hard to replace him with any other player. But both stars need to play better and lead the Lakers to more wins because there are very few excuses for them to get blown out by 20+ points on multiple occasions.
The Lakers have surrounded them with recognizable names including Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and Malik Monk among others. With a roster filled with size, experience, and star power; the Lakers should be better than what their 8-8 record suggests.
That is why based on what we have seen through 16 games, the Lakers are not a playoff team without LeBron James playing at full strength. That sounds harsh to Lakers fans that are confident in their squad, but it has to be the truth. Los Angeles lacks playmaking, defensive principles, and consistency on both ends of the floor without James on the court.
While The King should be back on the court in due time, the Lakers will be counting the minutes until it happens.
Russell Westbrook Still Has Issues With His Play
Only Russell Westbrook can average a triple-double 4 out of the last 5 seasons and receive criticism for his play. He is truly that polarizing because his stats scream top-10 player in the game but his impact certainly doesn’t. As a member of the Lakers, Westbrook has brought his inefficiencies to the team where they will be highlighted at any given moment. The Lakers were expected to be title contenders this year, and any star not performing up to par will be criticized.
Westbrook is averaging 5.3 turnovers per game and is shooting 29.2% from three, numbers which do not exactly stand out in a positive way for his reputation. As things stand, Westbrook has not managed to make the Lakers better and the team looks worse than last year in many ways. Los Angeles finished 7th in the West last year but that was because James and Davis missed the majority of the season. With Davis healthy and Russell Westbrook coming off another All-Star season, there is no way the Purple and Gold should have an 8-7 record at this point.
Westbrook's poor shooting has been evident and so has his turnover rate. The point guard is more of an individual talent that prospers with the ball in his hands, but he does not necessarily get along with other stars on the court. Without LeBron James to handle the ball and keep Westbrook in control, the Lakers are not title contenders and will not make the playoffs with their starting point guard making the majority of the decisions.
Anthony Davis Is Forever Injury-Prone
Every time Anthony Davis falls to the ground, Lakers fans hold their breath. Davis is famous for being injury-prone and that means at some point, he will be missing games this season. Without LeBron James, the Lakers are going to have to survive with the fact that Davis could miss games. Without James or Davis, Los Angeles barely made the playoffs last year and were dominated in the first round.
This season, the Lakers would not have 8 wins without the presence of their superstar big man. Davis (24.2 PPG) has carried the Lakers at times and his talent can win the team games against most teams that have less All-Star talent. If Davis does go down with an injury, Russell Westbrook will be forced to carry the load alone with or without LeBron James. Either way, this team will not compete for titles without Anthony Davis.
LeBron James is the best player on the team, but Anthony Davis is in his prime and the player most responsible for being consistent as a scorer. LeBron and Westbrook do not make up a championship team because of outside shooting and the fact that there is only one basketball to share. Without Anthony Davis, the Lakers will lose games and that could happen at some point this year.
Role Players Are Either Too Old Or Unproven
The Lakers made a ton of moves this offseason other than the acquisition of 9-time All-Star Russell Westbrook. For one, they acquired future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony who has rejuvenated his career with the Portland Trail Blazers. So far this season, Melo is averaging 15.5 PPG on 45.3% shooting from three which is very respectable for a bench player. But there is no way the Lakers can rely on a 37-year old who is known to go cold from the three-point line.
At some point, Anthony will begin cooling down and the Lakers have lived and died by him so far this season. Otherwise, Kendrick Nunn has yet to play a game while Rajon Rondo is also an aging veteran on his last legs. These two backup guards have not convinced so far this season due to age and injury, which is not a good sign.
Malik Monk has had some big games but is only averaging 8.6 PPG in a career-high 22.3 MPG. Monk has a long way to become a starting-caliber player because he is rather miniature and is not a great defender, something the Lakers desperately need at this point. Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore have shown much of the same at this point, and the team has just welcomed back Talen Horton-Tucker.
The role players feed off of their superstars, and without the presence of LeBron James, they are not playing at a high level which means the Lakers are becoming over-reliant on an injury-prone Anthony Davis.
Without LeBron, The Fear Is Gone
The Lakers have an aura about them, especially at home. They have not been convincing at home this year and the overbearing presence of LeBron James is not there either. LeBron's presence is something that is evident when he is on the floor because everyone in the NBA knows The King is the smartest player in the league. In terms of making adjustments, no player can dictate the outcome of games better than LeBron.
When The King is not on the court, the Lakers lose their prestige and the fear of Staple Center is gone. All of the championship Lakers sides had a fortress at home but that has not been the case for the Lakers this season, as they look forward to a long road trip. In many ways, Los Angeles had a favorable schedule with many home games but the reality of their situation will likely be shown over the next week.
Without LeBron James on the floor, teams have zero fear from an inefficient Russell Westbrook and a finesse Anthony Davis who tries to avoid contact to avoid injury. The Lakers need LeBron on the floor by next week at the latest, to continue holding a record above .500 and setting themselves up for success before the playoffs. But right now, better teams such as the Chicago Bulls manhandled the Lakers because they are smarter in every department without James on the court.
The Western Conference Is A Battlefield With Better Teams
In order for the Lakers to have a shot at making a deep playoff run and winning the NBA championship, they need to compete with all the best teams in the league. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors have a 12-2 record and arguably the MVP of the league in Stephen Curry. The Warriors play both ends of the floor at an elite level and are consistent on offense with their passing and shooting. Even with LeBron James, the Lakers cannot shoot like them and it is worse without him.
Otherwise, the Suns, Jazz, and Nuggets are all better than the Lakers on both ends of the floor. As physically dominant as Russell Westbrook is, he does not have the point guard brain of the great Chris Paul. The Suns can also shoot the lights out from deep with Devin Booker (36.3%) and Mikal Bridges (40.0%) and have a solid big man in Deandre Ayton. Not to mention, the Suns beat the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs last year and made it to the NBA Finals.
The Jazz have the best defensive player in the league in Rudy Gobert and a budding superstar in Donovan Mitchell with the likes of Jordan Clarkson (6th Man of the Year) coming off the bench. As a team that focuses their offense on sharing the ball, Utah is also a better team than the Lakers. Finally, Denver has the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic and will be a massive problem when Jamal Murray returns. Despite Murray’s absence and a horrible season by Michaell Porter Jr (9.9 PPG), Denver is afloat with a 9-5 record.
The King Needs To Play For Lakers To Compete With Bucks, Heat, Nets
The Eastern Conference is even tougher. Brooklyn is not going anywhere even if James Harden has a slight dip in his production (19.5 PPG) and Kyrie Irving is not playing. Other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant might be the best player in the league and will be gunning for a chance to win his 3rd championship. Without LeBron, the Lakers cannot hang with the Nets and will struggle to do so with James healthy.
Westbrook and Davis are much less of a threat than Durant and Harden because Brooklyn’s duo does not have a weakness on offense. The Nets will also get better if Kyrie Irving is cleared to play in Brooklyn or if he is traded for another star player. The Lakers need LeBron James healthy because Westbrook and Davis have no shot against Brooklyn’s dynamic duo.
Of course, the Miami Heat have impressed to start the season. Jimmy Butler is a tremendous two-way player and is arguably one of the top-15 stars in the league. The team stole Kyle Lowry from the Lakers after Los Angeles wouldn’t part with Talen Horton-Tucker last season. Bam Adebayo can bang with Davis down low and Tyler Herro is having a career year (21.9 PPG) off the bench. Miami is a much better team than the Lakers because they defend hard and can rely on multiple scoring options.
Without James fully healthy, the Lakers will struggle to win a series against top teams such as the Nets and Heat. Finally, based on what we have seen this year, do the Lakers stand any chance against the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks?
Milwaukee are getting beat quite handily to start the season but they are hardly healthy as they hold a 6-8 record. But Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have only appeared in a combined 14 games this year, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is pacing himself despite putting up his usual numbers (26.5 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 6.0 APG). Nobody is worried about the Bucks getting back to elite level, something Lakers fans should be concerned about as they start relying on a soon-to-be 37-year old LeBron James to save their season.
Without LeBron, The Lakers Miss The Playoffs
Los Angeles can hope to get in the playoffs via the Play-In Tournament, similar to how Portland Trail Blazers made the postseason two seasons ago. Much like Portland, the Lakers have talented players but not enough team chemistry to get over the hump and earn solidified playoff seeding. Other than the teams mentioned above, the Lakers do not have the team chemistry that the Memphis Grizzlies or Los Angeles Clippers have. These two teams are not contenders but are playing much better than the Lakers right now.
There is no way that Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis can showcase their leadership skills to gel everyone on the roster together. With so many new faces on the team, leadership of LeBron’s caliber is absolutely needed to fix roster inconsistencies. Anthony Davis was the first to admit that the team is no good right now and that nothing has clicked on the floor so far.
The King needs to be on the floor to sort out the mess that is the Lakers right now because Westbrook and Davis have demonstrated in the past (and right now) that they cannot carry teams into the playoffs with certainty. Much like the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles is a team that goes as their best player goes, and that means there will be no postseason appearance without LeBron playing his usual minutes.