Should the Lakers start worrying after their Christmas Day loss?
After four defeats in a row for the Los Angeles Lakers, surely it’s time for all-out panic for the purple and gold, right?
Well, no — not so fast. With Christmas in the books and a brand-new year fast approaching, there are some concerns coming out of the festive period that simply cannot be ignored for a team that, a week ago, looked like an overwhelming favorite to lift the title.
The Lakers’ Christmas Day defeat to the cross-corridor Clippers may not lead to a significant jolt in the standings when all is said and done. However, the marquee matchup did unwrap some issues that point even more towards an intriguing postseason in a few months’ time.
In a clash featuring four of the biggest names in the game, it was defensive pest Patrick Beverley who iced the contest with a swift-thinking, deflected block off LeBron James, thereby giving the Clippers a double dose of seasonal bragging rights over their co-residents of Staples Center.
And perhaps that in itself was the biggest marker of things to come when the playoffs arrive. With some of the primary stars in the game likely to square off, will it be the extras, the intangibles, the worker bees like Beverley that tilt the pendulum one way or another?
That is one area that could prove problematic for the Lakers. On most given nights the collective forces of James and Anthony Davis are enough to blow away the opposition. However, when there is a rival ready, willing and capable to match up in the star power stakes, will L.A.’s supporting parts have what it takes?
Or will it be left to James to go above and beyond in order to reach the promised land of contending for a title?
Big play by Pat Beverley pic.twitter.com/NgsCDwDLNo
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) December 26, 2019
“LeBron has to be better,” FOX NBA analyst Chris Broussard said on First Things First. “The two games against the Clippers he hasn’t been LeBron James. I don’t need 12 three-pointers; I need him driving to the basket, posting up, pushing the ball in transition. If LeBron is himself, they do win that game.”
James managed 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds against the Clippers, but was hampered by a groin knock sustained early and could not stop Kawhi Leonard and Paul George spearheading a second half comeback that overturned a 15-point deficit and crafted it in to a 111-106 win. As James rose to try to launch a potentially tying three with 4.2 seconds left, Beverley got a hand to the ball and swiped it out of bounds — caroming off James on the way through.
There are small margins in play at the very elite levels of the NBA. Was Leonard, with 35 points in 38 minutes, fresher as a result of the way his games and court time have been handled over the course of the season?
Leonard has played 24 out of 33 games and rests frequently. James has steadfastly refused to adopt a similar approach. “If I am healthy,” James said earlier this month, “I play.”
Coming out of the Wednesday setback, though — one that left the Lakers 24-7 after previous consecutive losses to the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets — it seemed likely that the groin problem would cause at least a brief layoff.
Last year (also on Christmas Day), James tore his left groin against the Golden State Warriors, which caused a long break that torpedoed the team’s campaign. This issue initially appears to be far less severe, but a short break may actually provide some needed rest.
Lakers’ LeBron James: “I felt healthy going into the game. The second or third defensive possession, I got kneed in the groin taking a charge from Pat Beverley. That kind of sent me back to where I was five days ago.” pic.twitter.com/KHWoCjyMZQ
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) December 26, 2019
“Several members of the organization already have approached James about the urgency to sit out and rehab his groin injury until he feels fully recovered,” wrote ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, citing sources.
It’s a tough dilemma. It feels foolish to fault James, days away from his 35th birthday, for wanting to play as much as possible. And though Leonard’s method worked wonders with the Toronto Raptors last season and has the full backing of the Clippers, the reality persists that basketball fans want to see the best players in uniform, not sat on the bench.
However, the structure of the league rewards those who are outstanding come playoff time, not necessarily those who blaze a trail of destruction between October and April. James himself produced arguably his finest hour in helping the Cleveland Cavaliers take down the 73-9 in Warriors in 2016.
“I love that LeBron and (Davis) are respecting the regular season,” Broussard added. “But he has not been himself against Indiana, Milwaukee or the Clippers. That LeBron James is not going to get the Lakers over the hump. He needs to get healthy.”
The Christmas Day games were what they usually are: a glimpse of potentially mouthwatering showdowns to come. They are not always an accurate barometer of what the postseason outcome will be, and the Lakers will hope that is the case again.
One thing is for sure: they — and James — have plenty to ponder as the season’s midpoint approaches.
"LeBron has to be better. The 2 games against the Clippers he hasn't been LeBron James. …. I don't need 12 three-pointers. I need him driving to the basket, posting up, pushing the ball in transition. If LeBron is himself, they do win that game." — @Chris_Broussard pic.twitter.com/LnXFtXMbB5
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) December 26, 2019