Christmas has long been the main day of the nba regular season. The game list shows the best teams in the league and the brightest stars and franchises.
The Christmas slate is also one of the biggest narrative drivers of the year. And those who tuned in lakers during their 124-115 blowout loss to the Mavericks in Dallas on Sunday witnessed a tragic reminder of the way James’ Hall of Fame career appears to be ending in Los Angeles.
James scored 38 points (on 13-of-23 shooting) against Dallas, one shy of his season-high set against the Spurs on November 26, adding six rebounds and five assists in his record-breaking 17th game on Christmas Day. When he retired at the 2:32 mark of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were plus-2 in the 34 minutes he played and minus-18 in the 12 minutes he sat out.
The individual plus-minus doesn’t always reflect a game’s story, but in this case, it was.
Without antonio davis, who is out indefinitely with a stress injury to his right foot, the Lakers just don’t have much of a chance when James isn’t on the court. They have lost four straight games, allowing at least 124 points in each loss, and are 1-4 since Davis’ injury, falling to 13-20 overall and 13 in the West.
The final score was not indicative of how close the game was for much of the second half. And with four more games on their five-game road trip, they risk falling further down the rankings.
When asked if he thinks the Lakers are resilient enough to get out of their situation, James offered a frank and frank assessment.
“I think I see it that way,” James said. “I see it another way too, like, how many times are you going to try to dig up until it’s too much dirt for you?”
James, who has occasionally raised concerns with the roster throughout the season, has become increasingly critical in recent postgame sessions since Davis’ injury.
“The reality is, without AD, we lose a lot of length, which we don’t have yet,” James said. “So we have to make amends in ways that, without AD, are very difficult, very challenging. So, I think at one point we had a lineup of I think (austin reaves) was the tallest guy on the court. So you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to find out.”
James has been direct about the lack of shooting and the size of the team. There have also been subtle jabs at the team’s collective talent. The subtext of his message, of course, is that the Lakers’ roster could benefit from a much-needed update from the front office via a trade (or two). And it’s hard to disagree with James’ judgment or his application of pressure.
After a slow start, James is surely doing his part, scoring 30-plus in seven straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA.
He continues to break and set records with unprecedented longevity. Among many notable examples to choose from this season, he’s already passed Magic Johnson in assists in his career, and will likely pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list in the next month and a half.
But James’ 20th season, like his 19th, is essentially being wasted on a Lakers team seemingly destined for the lottery. There have been glimmers of optimism, but like last season, the team has largely fallen short of the expectations set in the first two seasons of the James-Davis partnership.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who shows the glass half full in most cases, acknowledged the “difficult circumstances” that James, in particular, faces amid the team’s struggles.
“Great,” Ham said of James’ game. “I take my hat off to him. He competed like crazy. These are difficult times right now, difficult circumstances. But at the end of the day, you know, we just have to keep moving forward. He is the best example of that. Just the ability for him to come out game after game and put in the kind of performances that he’s putting in, really trying to coach and teach the guys in the process of being on the court, playing with them. Throwing ideas our way. Allow yourself to be trained.
“Many guys in that position, not all of them let themselves be trained. I take my hat off to him. His leadership has been showing ”.
The game started encouragingly for the Lakers. they doubled Luka Doncic, limiting their offensive performance and forcing the rest of the Mavericks to try to beat them. The Dallas shooters locked stare after stare, airballing several of them. The Lakers played with fire and got away with it. They led 54-43, rotating quite well and corralling the Mavericks’ offense, for the most part.
But the third quarter, which has been the Lakers’ worst this season, featured a volcanic eruption of historic proportions. Dallas scored 51 points, the fourth-highest Christmas scoring in NBA history and the best mark in the league this season.
Dončić (32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) fired them from the post, Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 of his 26 points in the quarter) drilled several 3-pointers and christian wood (30 points, career-high seven assists) dominated in the paint as an offensive roller, passer and rebounder. Dallas made 9 of 13 3-pointers in the quarter, shooting 72 percent overall.
The Lakers fell apart, as they often have in second halves and at critical moments this season. In 12 minutes, they went from up 11 points to down 19.
“They countered what we were doing at halftime,” James said. “We didn’t make the proper adjustments once they made the adjustments.”
Part of the remarkable run came from Dončić’s brilliance and the impossible problems facing the defense. The Mavericks have loaded their roster with shots to complement Dončić’s style of play.
“If you watch the same coverage over and over again, at some point you will find out when you have a high basketball IQ which Luka has, obviously,” said James, who referred to the lack of multiple adjustments in the second half of the team. times.
But a big part of the Mavericks’ success also stemmed from the fact that the Lakers’ supporting cast is largely unreliable, and there aren’t many players Ham trusts who are taller than 6-foot-5.
Ham continues to field the 6-foot-1 patrick beverley next to 6 foot 1 dennis schroeder as a starting defenseman, a combination that just hasn’t worked. The Lakers are already too small, but Ham tends to favor his smaller players in an attempt to stem the bleeding, even if he generates too many offensive rebounds and easy points in the paint.
One such extreme was when Ham used Westbrook (6-foot-3) at center, along with Reaves (6-foot-5), Lonnie Walker IV (6 ft 4 in), Schröder and Beverley. That’s probably the smallest lineup any team has used this season. The group went -1 in about two minutes in the fourth quarter.
“You throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” Ham said. “It’s one of those types of situations. AD is not here, not in the lineup. We’re not going to start using that as an excuse. Hell yeah, it’s a big hole in our lineup. But now, we are professionals. We have to take a step forward.”
Regardless of the circumstances, Ham has maintained a confident exterior. For him, there is always something else that the coaching staff or the players can do to fix things.
But James’ patience seems to be running thin as the clock ticks down on his legendary battle with Father Time.
This season, James is averaging 27.8 points, 0.4 more than Davis, on 49.6 percent shooting, along with 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He’s doing it in 36.1 minutes per game, tied for 14th in the league. For reference, Kobe Bryant averaged 28.2 minutes per game in his 20th season. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 22.9 minutes in his 20th. Vince Carter averaged 17.7 minutes in his.
Basically, James is in unprecedented territory not only with his production but also with his workload.
It’s hard to bet against James for the way he’s challenged the traditional aging of athletes, but at some point, the cost will inevitably hit him. If Davis misses several more weeks, the increased burden it will take to bear his absence is too much for James, who will turn 38 on December 30. There just isn’t another star player or great fit for Ham. begin to.
Reinforcements via trade would obviously help, and the Lakers are still evaluating their options in a sluggish trade market. At the same time, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify trading a first-round pick if the group continues to struggle. The front office doesn’t want to compound their previous mistakes with more win-now moves.
There are many slices of the guilt pie to share. Among them, James obviously bears some of the blame for some of the roster construction considering the notable input from him, like supporting the Westbrook trade, that he’s had in recent seasons.
It’s just hard to watch one of the best players in the game, with such greatness still in the tank, go out with a whimper instead of a bang.
“At the end of the day, I love playing basketball,” James said of how this year has been for him. “I still enjoy going out there and playing in front of the fans, whether it’s at home or on the road. And I only try to control what I can control.
“I show up, I try to lead these guys and I try to get wins and obviously there have been times where it’s been frustrating. There have been times when I have been happy. There have been times where I’ve said, ‘Okay, we can do better here,’ or whatever the case may be. But I always try to stay balanced.”
(Picture of Lebron James: Jerome Miron / USA Today)