Lakers are wasting LeBron James' greatness and Christmas loss is another reminder

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Christmas has been the most important day of the NBA regular season. The games 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 to the Lakers during their 124-115 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 short of his season-high against the Spurs on Nov. 26, adding six rebounds and five assists in his record-breaking 17th game on Christmas Day. When he left at the 2:32 mark of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were up 2 in the 34 minutes he played and 18 down in the 12 minutes he was sitting.

The individual plus-minus doesn’t always reflect the story of a game, but in this case it did.

Without Anthony Davis, who is out indefinitely with a stress injury to his right foot, the Lakers simply don’t stand much of a chance when James is off the ground. They’ve lost four straight games — allowing at least 124 points in each loss — and are 1-4 since Davis’ injury, dropping to 13-20 overall and 13th in the West.

The final score did not indicate how close the game actually was for much of the second half. And with four more games left on their five-game trip, they are in danger of plummeting further down the standings.

When asked if he believes the Lakers are resilient enough to pull themselves out of their predicament, James offered a frankly candid assessment.

“I guess I see it that way,” James said. “I also see it on the other hand, like, how many times are you going to try to dig yourself out until there’s too much dirt on you?”

James, who had occasionally expressed concerns about the squad throughout the season, had become increasingly critical in the final post-game sessions since Davis’ injury.

“The reality is that without AD we lost a lot of length, which we still don’t have,” said James. “So we have to compensate 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 figure this out.”

James was blunt about the lack of pitching and team size. There were also subtle jabs at the team’s collective talent. His message subtext, of course, is that the Lakers roster could benefit from a much-needed front office update via a trade (or two). And it’s hard to disagree with James’ judgment or pressure from him.

After a slow start, James is certainly doing his part, scoring 30+ 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 has already passed Magic Johnson in career assists and will likely pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time leading scorers list in the next month and a half.

But James’ 20th season, like his 19th, is essentially being wasted on a Lakers team seemingly tied to the lottery. There were glimmers of optimism but, like last season, the team failed to meet the expectations set in the first two seasons of the James-Davis partnership.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham, who tends to keep the glass half full in most cases, acknowledged the “difficult circumstances” that James, in particular, is facing amidst the team’s struggles.

“Phenomenal,” Ham said of James’ play. “Hats off to him. He competed like hell. It’s tough times right now, tough circumstances. But at the end of the day, you know, we just have to move on. He is the greatest example of that. Just his ability to go out game after 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 ground, playing with them. Throwing ideas our way. Allowing yourself to be coached.

“A lot of guys in that position, everyone doesn’t let themselves be trained. I take my hat off to him. His leadership has shown.”

The game got off to a good start for the Lakers. They doubled up Luka Dončić, limiting his offensive production and forcing the rest of the Mavericks to try and beat them. Dallas snipers opened stare after open stare, hitting several of them. The Lakers played with fire and got away with it. They led 54-43, running reasonably well and cornering the Mavericks offense, for the most part.

But the third quarter, which was the Lakers’ worst this season, featured a volcanic eruption of historic proportions. Dallas scored 51 points, the most Christmas points in NBA history and the league’s best this season.

Dončić (32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) split them off the post, Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 of his 26 points in the quarter) punched multiple 3s and Christian Wood (30 points, career-high seven assists) dominated in the paint as a roller, passer and offensive rebounder. Dallas made nine of 13 3-pointers in the quarter, shooting 72 percent overall.

The Lakers fell apart, as they often do in second halfs and critical moments this season. In 12 minutes they went from 11 points to 19 points.

“They countered what we were doing at halftime,” said James. 🇧🇷We didn’t make the proper adjustments after they made the adjustments.”

Part of the remarkable run stemmed from Dončić’s brilliance and the impossible problems he contorted the defense to tackle. The Mavericks filled the roster with shots to complement Dončić’s style of play.

“If you see the same coverage over and over again, at some point you’ll find out when you have a high basketball IQ, which Luka obviously has,” said James, who referenced the team’s lack of multiple adjustments in the second half. times.

But much of the Mavericks’ success has also come from the fact that the Lakers’ supporting roster is unreliable — and there aren’t many players Ham trusts taller than six feet.

Ham continues to deploy 1.80m Patrick Beverley alongside 1.80m Dennis Schröder as the starting backcourt, a combination that just didn’t work. The Lakers are already undersized, but Ham tends to favor his smaller players in an attempt to stop the bleeding, even if it means a lot of offensive rebounds and easy paint points.

One such extreme was when Ham used Westbrook (6ft-3) at center along with Reaves (6ft-5), Lonnie Walker IV (6ft-4), Schröder and Beverley. That’s probably the smallest lineup any team has used this season. The group was -1 about two minutes into the fourth quarter.

“You throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” Ham said. “It’s one of those kinds of situations. AD is not here, not in the lineup. Let’s not start using that as an excuse. Hell yes, it’s a big hole in our schedule. But now, we’re professionals. We have to step up.”

Regardless of the circumstance, Ham 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 wearing 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, 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 just with his output, but with his workload as well.

It’s hard to bet against James for the way he has defied traditional athlete aging, but at some point, the price will inevitably take its toll. If Davis misses a few more weeks, the added burden it will take to bear his absence is too much to place on James, who turns 38 on Dec. 30. if you go back to.

Reinforcements via trade would obviously help, and the Lakers are still weighing their options in a dormant trade market. At the same time, it becomes increasingly challenging to justify trading a first-round pick if the group continues to struggle. The front office doesn’t want to compound its previous mistakes with more winning moves.

There are many slices of the guilt pie to share. Among them, James obviously has some blame on the part of the cast building, considering the notable contribution – such as supporting the Westbrook trade – that he’s had over the last few seasons.

It’s hard to watch one of the game’s greatest players, with so much greatness still in the tank, go away with a groan 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’m still enjoying getting out there and playing for the fans, whether it’s at home or away. And I’m just trying to control what I can control.

“I show up, I try to lead these guys and I try to lead them to wins and obviously there were times when it was frustrating. There were times when I was happy. There were times when I thought, ‘OK, we can do better here’ or whatever the case may be. But I always try to keep the balance.”

(Photo by LeBron James: Jerome Miron/USA Today)