It’s still early in the NBA season, we’re not even a quarter of the way in, meaning it’s far too early to bury the preseason title favorites off to slow starts. Milwaukee had injury issues but is finally getting healthy. Brooklyn had James Harden getting off to a slow start and still no Kyrie Irving yet are 12-5 and atop the East.
Then there are the 8-9 Lakers, who have only had LeBron James for seven of those games. LeBron was not about to hit the panic button after the Lakers got thumped (then tolled) by the Celtics Friday night in his return to action. But he also said the Lakers have to be better. Here’s his quote via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“It’s never, ‘We got 65 games left,'” James said when asked if he can take the long view considering the Lakers’ early injuries and how much of the 82-game regular-season slate remains. “We damn sure need to play better, no matter who is in the lineup. We have our system and we need to obviously fast-track it and get better with it so we can play, no matter who is out on the floor, we can play at a high level…
“There’s no level of panic. But there should be some sense of urgency anytime we take the floor.”
The Lakers 8-9 record masks a team with the net rating of a 6-11 squad (-3.9). The Lakers offense is 24th in the league at a 105 rating (using Cleaning the Glass’ stats, which filter out garbage time), but that ship will right itself with LeBron back in the lineup after missing eight games with an abdomen strain. He is critical to their half-court offense.
The bigger problem is the 25th-ranked defense because no players are arriving who will change the issues (other statistical systems that do not filter out garbage time have the Lakers 19th in defense). Los Angeles traded away Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and let Alex Caruso walk after last season, part of a roster shift towards more offense, and despite the play of Anthony Davis as a shot blocker the L.A. defense is suffering. The Lakers do get a 36-year-old Trevor Ariza back from injury eventually and he will help, but he’s not a true stopper at this point in his career.
LeBron is right, it’s too early to panic for these Lakers. There is a long history of LeBron teams starting the season slowly and being contenders by the end. Russell Westbrook has played better in the second half of the last couple of seasons.
But call it urgency, call it young legs, call it talent, call it whatever you want, the Laker need more of it to turn the ship around as the schedule starts to get tougher.