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Thursday, March 10, 2022

Lakers Hit New Low With Overtime Loss to Rockets

The Houston Rockets have the worst record in the Western Conference and are just percentage points ahead of the Orlando Magic in the "race" to post the worst record in the entire NBA, but the L.A. Lakers lost to the Rockets in overtime on Wednesday night, 139-130. This loss will be tough to blame on everyone's favorite scapegoat, Russell Westbrook, but I have full faith and confidence that Skip "Clueless," "Screamin' A" Smith, and the rest of the village idiots will figure out how to trash Westbrook's name and Westbrook's game. 

The Lakers' overall problem, as Charles Barkley has repeatedly noted, is that without Anthony Davis they are old, slow, and lack defensive presence in the paint. The Lakers sometimes play well in stretches, but they cannot sustain good play for much more than a quarter or two at a time. Another Laker problem is that LeBron James has entered "We're not winning anyway so let me pad my stats" mode. "Lakers Lose Despite LeBron James' Triple Double" is the headline that LeBron James wants to see after the Houston loss, and most media outlets will bow to the self-proclaimed King and comply. Let's look a little deeper at that 23 point, 14 rebound, 12 assist triple double: James shot 9-26 from the field (.346), hoisting five more field goal attempts than any other Laker, he had five of the Lakers' 16 turnovers, and he had the worst plus/minus number (-17) of any player on either team. 

To top it off, despite jacking up more shots than any other player, James eschewed a potential game-winning layup at the end of regulation to pass to Carmelo Anthony, who missed a long jumper at the buzzer. When Ben Simmons passed to a teammate for a layup down the stretch of a playoff game last year, he was pilloried for being afraid to shoot, but there is no doubt that James passing up a layup for a long Anthony jumper will be portrayed as a heroic example of "making the right basketball play." Anthony shot 5-13 from the field, and his plus/minus number (-14) was second worst to James in this game, but we are supposed to pretend that the points the Lakers hemorrhaged with James and Anthony on the court do not matter, and we are supposed to pretend that a long jumper by an over the hill player is a better basketball play than a layup attempt by the player who cannot stop telling us that he is the greatest player of all-time.

After the game, Rockets rookie Jalen Green--who scored a career-high/game-high 32 points, including 10 in overtime--said, "Our game plan was just to attack Melo and find the mismatch on the floor. So when it came down to it, we were looking for Melo and I was attacking him every time."

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook scored a team-high 30 points on 11-21 field goal shooting. He had eight rebounds, six assists, and just two turnovers in 40 minutes. His plus/minus number was -2, but it was in positive territory until the disastrous overtime that would not have been necessary if James had not been afraid to make a game-winning layup. The collective amnesia about Westbrook's prior accomplishments and the notion that he is washed up now are two of the most ridiculous basketball narratives that I have ever had the displeasure of reading and hearing. Hubie Brown is 88 years old and he does not do a full schedule of games, but he is still as sharp as ever, and it is fascinating to contrast his take on Westbrook with the dominant narratives. For example, during Sunday's broadcast of Milwaukee's 132-122 win over Phoenix, Brown noted that Giannis Antetokounmpo is on pace to become the first player to average at least 25 ppg, at least 10 rpg, and at least 5 apg in four different seasons. Brown mentioned that the record for such seasons is currently shared by Oscar Robertson (three, 1961-63) and Antetokounmpo (if the NBA counted ABA numbers--which should be counted--then Julius Erving's 1974-76 seasons would be included). Brown added that Wilt Chamberlain (1964, 1966) and Russell Westbrook (2017-18) are the only other players to accomplish this more than once, and Brown said of Westbrook, "A lot of people don't want to give him credit, but that's the company he's in." It should be noted that reigning regular season MVP Nikola Jokic is set to join that company as he is on pace to have his second consecutive 25-10-5 season.

Westbrook is one of the greatest players of all-time, and he can still play at a high level. Just last May, the Washington Wizards put the ball in Westbrook's hands, and he set records while lifting them from oblivion into the playoffs. Will Lakers' General Manager/Coach/Media Relations Manager/Team Captain/Heir to the Regular Season Scoring Crown LeBron James play defense, display championship-level leadership, and let Westbrook run the offense to give the Lakers a fighting chance to salvage this train wreck of a season? Why should he? He is chasing the all-time scoring record, his media friends and allies will cover for him, and he knows that Westbrook--and Coach Frank Vogel--are set up to be the fall guys.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:36 AM



At Saturday, March 19, 2022 10:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one thing that gets overlooked about the Russ acquisition is just how much of a load it's required he carry. Yes, he's been a bad fit and had a bad season in general. (We can agree to disagree that the issue is "the Lakers are using him the wrong way" for the time being.)

The book on LeBron James has always been to surround him with good defenders and shooters who can play off the ball. To free up enough space on the books to pay Russ' $44 million salary, the Lakers had to give up:

Alex Caruso, one of the best defensive guards in the league, a solid spot-up shooter, and a savvy cutter

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a very versatile defender who could run the floor and shot 41% from 3 with LeBron last season

Dennis Shroeder, who was frankly a disappointment for many of the same reasons Russ is facing but was an absolute pest on defense and a passable spot-up shooter

Montrezl Harrell, who wasn't much of a defender but is one of the best "bucket-getters" in the league when he catches the ball in the paint

Kyle Kuzma, who was turning himself from a volume shooter into an all-around player who was improving on defense and getting more comfortable without the ball on offense

Now the Lakers are paying the following players more than the minimum salary because of the amount they've had to pay for LeBron, AD, and Russ:

1) LeBron
2) AD
3) Russ
4) Luol Deng, who is still on the books
5) Talen-Horton Tucker, who has good qualities but is an iffy outside shooter
6) Kendrick Nunn, who has yet to play this year

The Lakers found some nice pieces off the scrap heap -- Carmelo has shot well, Malik Monk is exceeding expectations, and Austin Reeves is giving you anything you can ask for and more from an undrafted rookie -- but believing Russ could pick up all the slack for five above-average NBA players whose games fit well around LeBron seems like a disaster of an idea in retrospect (and seemed like it at the time), especially since LeBron has as many miles on his knees as anyone who's ever laced up a pair of sneakers and AD tends to show up in street clothes as much as he does.

At Saturday, March 19, 2022 10:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And look at that, the Lakers lose to the Wizards with LeBron and Westbrook combining to go for 60 points on 44 shots. Outside of Carmelo Anthony, the Laker bench went 3-13 from the field and didn't make a single three. There just aren't many roads to victory for a team this wafer-thin. Unlike you, I don't think Russ has been playing well this year, but it's not his fault the Lakers acquiring him has forced them to throw out this many misfit toys on a nightly basis.

At Tuesday, March 22, 2022 1:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that the Lakers' trade for Westbrook depleted their depth to the point that Westbrook is being asked to carry a very heavy burden.

I think that a nucleus of James, Davis, and Westbrook could have been formidable if James and Davis could have stayed healthy, if Davis regained the motivation/motor that he displayed during the 2020 "Bubble" championship run, and if James were as interested in team success now as he is in breaking the all-time regular season scoring record. Perhaps it was or should have been foreseeable that Davis would slack off and/or get hurt, and that James would primarily be focused on the all-time scoring crown, but I thought that the Lakers would use Westbrook more sensibly, and that the Lakers' defense--anchored by Davis--would fuel a great fastbreak attack. I was wrong about that, but I am not sure how foreseeable this disaster was (it is easy to say in hindsight that something is foreseeable, but I don't recall anyone foreseeing the Lakers struggling to stay in contention for the Play-In Tournament).

At Tuesday, March 22, 2022 1:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your assessment that the Lakers' roster--particularly sans Davis--is too thin to provide "many roads to victory."

Regarding how well Westbrook is playing, he is averaging 18.1/7.5/7.1 with shooting splits of .436/.291/.671. After being a solid .800+ free throw shooter for most of his career, his free throw percentage has not been above .800 for the past five seasons (including this campaign). I have no explanation for this, and I cannot recall seeing a great player who was an above average free throw shooter suddenly become a below average free throw shooter. That being said, his 2FG% and 3FG% this season are roughly in line with his career averages. Much is made of him shooting too many three pointers, but his 3FGA per game this season is lower than any season since 2011-12; maybe he should shoot even fewer, but it cannot honestly be said that he has regressed this season either in terms of "too many" attempts or in terms of his accuracy. His turnover rate this season is slightly below his career average both per game and per minute.

If he is not playing well this season then he has not played well for his career--and I know that some people believe that, but the reality is that he is a first ballot HoFer who still has a lot left in the tank. The Lakers have thrown Westbrook under the bus to protect LeBron's reputation, and many media members have willingly participated in this, for a variety of reasons. If/when Westbrook is utilized correctly--whether by the Lakers or by another team--I believe that he will resume posting triple doubles on a regular basis.


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