Alright LeBron. See you. Image: Getty Images
We, the American people, had a great time at the expense of the Los Angeles Lakers for most of 2022. LeBron James missed a significant period early last season, and Anthony Davis missed most of the 2021-22 season. However, by January, with both on the court around the time of the All-Star break, it became clear that the Lakers would not be a team that mattered in the postseason.
Then they missed the postseason completely. Russell Westbrook was benched in the fourth quarter and within hours of the game it was leaked that the move had management’s full support. Kurt Rambis broke messages to the coaching staff and Westbrook was booed by the home crowd as he made jump shots.
The NBA’s crown jewel franchise looked inept, and somehow things got even worse this season. A suitable trade for Westbrook’s expiring contract was not found. They shed most of their role players and then brought in Patrick Beverley, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Thomas Bryant – who has not played this season through injury – and hoped a healthy Kendrick Nunn and a more experienced Austin Reaves could contribute.
Nothing worked early this season, and the Lakers were a huge stink bomb. Worst team in league starting 2022-23 0-5. Westbrook dominated the news cycle with his brick late in a close loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and constant speculation about what his role would be while he’s still on the roster. Also, Anthony Davis is trying his best to get through a back injury and may be tired of the nicknames he gets for constantly missing games.
There was a legitimate concern over when the Lakers would get their first win, as through Nov. 11, no team under .500 was on their roster. And then pride took over last night against the Denver Nuggets and their two-time MVP Nikola Jokić.
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Somehow, the terrible Lakers, who shot three points, made 43.3 percent of their shots from behind the arc. Matt Ryan might have been on the bench in Indianapolis, but in Los Angeles, Matt Ryan helped put the Lakers ahead with a big three-pointer late in the third quarter. In 12 big minutes, Ryan, who spent most of last season playing with Grand Rapids Gold and Maine Celtics in the G-League, went 2-4 out of three.
It was a true team effort for the Lakers to end their awkward start to the season. Austin Reaves was +15 on the floor in 27 minutes and made some of the game’s biggest baskets late in the third and early fourth quarters. Lonnie Walker IV scored 18 points. Troy Brown Jr. caught the start and went 4-8 off the field in 26 minutes and grabbed six rebounds.
When it came time for the Lakers to ditch the nuggets, Davis looked like the star who should be worth trading all that draft capital to the New Orleans Pelicans to get. He avoided the 3-point line and boiled his mid-range jumper with some late buckets to secure the 121-110 win.
Perhaps the best sight of the game was Westbrook’s interaction with the Crypto.com audience, which hit him hard for much of 2022. He came off the bench and recorded 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists with just three turnovers as well, going 2-4 from the three-point line. A clip went viral late in the third quarter as the crowd reacted to Westbrook, earning the team a standing ovation.
Westbrook has taken a lot of heat just for being on this team. The Lakers gave up a lot to win him and it’s not his fault. Yes, he didn’t play at the All-Star level, but he only did for half a season with the Washington Wizards in 2020-21. The Lakers needed to know they weren’t getting the MVP version of him. Still, he took the brunt of the Lakers’ failures, just as he did when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, because Westbrook’s style — on and off the court — is so powerful it always commands attention.
No win is heartwarming when a team of veteran players improves to 1-5, but the Lakers have at least demonstrated their ability to take a game from one of the better teams in the NBA when it’s at stake .
If they lose two more in a row, the jokes will return, but for one night, the Lakers need to be feeling good. It’s a shame it has come to this, but maybe it’s the moment they need to turn things around this season.