Watching the Lakers hurts right now


Dani Heba, Sports Editor

After a long, painful month of Los Angeles Lakers basketball, superstar Anthony Davis made his long-awaited  return, leading the team to a 106-96 win against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 25 after being out for more than a month due to a knee injury.

Just as things looked up for the team, standing at a measly 24-27, ninth place in the Western Conference, news broke that LeBron James has a swollen knee and is out indefinitely, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

After James’ absence since the  Nets win, the team has suffered three consecutive losses, a blowout 105-87 loss against Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 27, a heartbreaking 117-114 defeat against Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 28 and a close 129-121 loss against Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 30.

James’s presence is certainly missed, as he was averaging 29.1 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and 6.3 assists per game in what is an MVP-worthy season had the team not performed so poorly thus far.

Although James has undoubtedly been the best player on the Lakers this season, that’s no excuse for the team to perform this unsuccessfully without him. They still have Russell Westbrook, the triple-double machine, and Davis, a superstar big man with incredible offensive and defensive talent.

The truth is, the team has performed poorly. Westbrook, who was signed following a blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards this offseason, has underperformed majorly. He’s averaging a measly 18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, some of the worst numbers of his career.

Davis is performing well this season, averaging 23.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. These aren’t bad numbers, considering he has been sharing the ball with James and Westbrook, and they aren’t too far off from his career averages either. However, Davis’ issue is staying healthy, a problem he has been battling throughout his career.

What has exemplified the problem this season is the lack of hustle in the Lakers’ play.

Particularly, the team is among the league’s worst in terms of screen assists and loose balls recovered per game and is mediocre in their deflections per game.

As a result of this lack of intensity, the team ranks 23rd in offensive rating and 18th in defensive rating, with the latter being the most surprising given Lakers head coach Frank Vogel’s defensive focus and the team’s elite defensive players in Davis and Dwight Howard, the latter a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

With their slew of problems, the Lakers need to figure out what’s going on immediately. With 51 games in the books, the Lakers have covered more than half of its season and only have 31 games remaining.

Despite these issues, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley made a good point in his analysis of the Lakers: the team cannot blame Westbrook and Vogel for their problems.

“The Lakers are such wussies,” Barkley said on Inside the NBA. “And I’ll say ‘wussies’ because I can’t say the word I wanna say. The way they have tried to throw Russell Westbrook and Frank Vogel under the bus is just really pissing me off.”

Barkley’s remarks followed  Westbrook’s benching during the fourth quarter of the team’s 111104 loss versus Indiana Pacers on Jan. 19 and rumors regarding both a Westbrook trade and the status of Vogel’s job as head coach of the team.

He’s absolutely right; the team’s problems run deeper than any one player or coach. There’s no doubt that the team is incredibly talented with its big three of James, Davis and Westbrook, all of whom are some of the greatest to ever play. The problem comes with hustle, as seen earlier by the team’s positioning in hustle statistics.

There’s no one person responsible for the team’s lack of hustle and focus during games.

However, this is the main  problem holding the team back right now despite the roster’s talent. The team needs to find its motivation, and it needs to do so soon. Maybe All-Star Weekend will be a chance for some much-needed rest. Maybe the team’s stars need to gel together while all are healthy.

Whatever it is the team needs to do, they need to get it done in time for the playoffs. With skilled veterans who have seen it all like James, Davis, Westbrook, Howard and Carmelo Anthony, the team has plenty of hope in getting its play together.