Going 1-2 on a road trip is hardly considered a good thing for any team in the NBA, which is why the Lakers have plenty to mull over as they return to LA.
Sunday night’s 115-110 loss against the Bulls came down the wire, and the Lakers appeared in position to leave Unitied Center with a win, despite their evidently deficient sideline.
But, the Lakers did not hang on, opting for a “moral defeat.”
After dominating LA in the mid-range all night, DeMar DeRozan wasn’t ready to let his performance come second to a Lakers win. DeRozan scored 38 on the night, becoming a mid-range assassin (zero 3-pointers attempted) along with making 16 of 17 free throws.
The otherworldly performance by DeRozan, LA’s top suggestion for the Lakers’ front office to snag in off-season trades, was a showcase both uncontained and uncontrollable. But the Lakers’ 20 turnovers and missed free throws became a reminder of “casual” play that the LA has run into all season. And with a sloppy effort, it’s hard to dub these losses a victory in any form.
What the Lakers have lacked in bodies this season often mirrors what they lack inwardly –a drive or urgency to overcome the card they’ve been dealt.
Health and safety protocols have already ravaged the Lakers team, including six sidelined players and head coach Frank Vogel. In that reality, there is some grace to be given for a close loss that did spark hope at several points.
Fans have rooted for second-in-command David Fizdale to usurp Vogel as coach. While calls to replace Vogel have mostly been overblown, Sunday night’s late-game hustle (possibly incited by Fizdale’s presence) showcased a Lakers team that was at the very least interested in winning, unlike the easy-going demeanor of games past.
Still, Lakers forward LeBron James would have rather have seen his team lose to a different squad compared to a group of familiar faces that ultimately didn’t make the James regime. Alex Caruso was a fan favorite previously seen at Staples, and the missed potential of keeping former No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball still makes fans wonder what could have resulted with Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell still on the squad (omitting the 2020 Finals win from memory, of course).
Thomas has been a nice surprise in just two games, scoring 32 points combined on some substantial playing time in the ephemeral spree of COVID sit-outs.
Thankfully this time around, the Lakers’ leading scorer was not a player on a 10-day contract, unlike Friday night.
James scored 31 points, adding 14 rebounds and six assists. The Lakers desperately needed James’ rebounds on the night — seen in the 21 minutes given to Jordan (seven rebounds).
The King kept his team alive, but some missed opportunities when shadowed by Caruso near the paint, and his penchant for shooting (and missing) threes, in the end, showed up in the five-point loss.
Westbrook reverted to his old ways, adding six turnovers to go alongside 20 points. Fans have clamored plenty for the team to trade or rework Westbrook’s role in the lineup, but a Sunday night shadowing by the lengthy Nikola Vucevic at times gave Westbrook a challenge that a deeper bench could help the 33-year-old use for an escape. Such wasn’t the case.
As the Lakeshow once again hover around .500 (16-15), the team will need to decide if this season will comprise of resilient wins and win-no-matter-what performances from their rotations (à la Erik Spoelstra‘s Heat) or retreat to excuses that the team was short-handed all year and accrue the moral wins and losses … which never ends in everyone getting to keep their job, per the unspoken Lakers handbook.
While not much of a defensive stalwart in his games leading up to his injury, the size missed on the floor by an injured Anthony Davis still signals a big need by LA moving forward to survive against marquee opponents such as the Bucks, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nuggets, etc.
Davis is set to miss four weeks of action after getting diagnosed with an MCL sprain.
Lakers fan aren’t delusional to call this Bulls win a righteous defeat; the only caveat remains how much that sentiment will snowball until a morale season without a proper response from the Lakers in situations where they’re short-handed.