LeBron James, Lakers Still Struggling With Secret Problem
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers still seem to be struggling with some mysterious, secret problem that nobody wants to open up about.
Their issues were on full display Monday night, when a Denver Nuggets squad comprised mostly of second-stringers nearly pulled off an upset over the Lakers’ starters.
Fortunately, Los Angeles escaped with a 124-121 victory – but it never should have been that close.
After the outing, James acknowledged that his group was still not all there mentally.
LeBron is “getting there” physically in terms of playoff mode, but mentally neither he nor the team is there yet. He said the playoffs are such a grind, you can’t lock in until you get there. “There’s another level to playoff basketball … we’ll be ready for it when it comes.”
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) August 11, 2020
This is not the first time either James or head coach Frank Vogel have alluded to some ominous mental issue bugging the team. Both did it last week, too.
In explaining why the Lakers are struggling at Disney, LeBron said there was something going on, off the court, that he couldn’t control, and he’d rather not discuss. That sounds…ominous? Final Thoughts from OKC-LAL https://t.co/b3382do3Ir
— Joe Vardon (@joevardon) August 6, 2020
Frank Vogel was asked if Lakers are considering a lineup change. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’re looking at everything, but it’s bigger than that.”
— Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015) August 6, 2020
LeBron James, Lakers Improved And Regressed On Monday
On the positive side, with their latest win, the Lakers finally broke out of the slump that left them with four losses in their last five games heading into Monday night.
After consistently putting up arguably the worst offensive performances of any title contender in the bubble, LA bounced back and shot 54.3 percent from the field and 48.3 percent from behind the arc against Denver.
That is good.
Unfortunately, the offensive resurgence was accompanied by a defensive collapse. Denver’s second and third stringers absolutely lit them up.
The Nuggets shot 58.4 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from three. That is nuts, given who got the majority of the minutes in that game.
Clearly, the Lakers are still off – even in victory.
So what is the issue?
A Mysterious Secret Problem No One Wants To Reveal
Over the past couple of weeks, James has attributed his lack of rhythm to some phantom, shadowy off-the-court issue that he does not want to talk about, but is willing to bring up.
“It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the court,” he said last week.
When pressed to elaborate on that, James would not.
So what are these issues?
Some have suggested that the concern is a lack of chemistry. Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith were added to the fold at the end of this season, preventing them from developing a comfortable rapport with their teammates.
NBA on TNT analyst Kenny Smith recently said this much during an interview.
“If JR Smith and Dion Waiters had been there throughout this season, we’d see a different team,” insisted.
“But the fact that those guys are still trying to not only find themselves but find out how they fit in with the team — and because they’re so integral in terms of having the ball in their hands…”
Moreover, Avery Bradley’s decision to not join the Lakers in the bubble also apparently rubbed some people the wrong way. That, plus his standoffish attitude after the fact.
Danny Green says Avery Bradley has been “distant” since he opted out of the season, but that the standard he set on defense has stayed with the team.
— Christian Rivas (@RadRivas) July 29, 2020
“I think the lack of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo is bigger than you would have thought, only because when the second unit comes in, there seems to be no continuity yet,” Smith added.
So is it simply a matter of bad chemistry, or is there something else at play here?
Related: How Does Dave Portnoy Keep Winning?
LeBron James, Lakers Are Supposed To Be Title Favorites
James and the Lakers were widely viewed as the favorites to win the NBA championship heading into the Orlando bubble. Multiple sportsbooks had them listed at +260 to win the whole thing before the season relaunched.
Even now, with all their recent slumping, the team is still an 11/4 favorite to win the whole thing.
The Los Angeles Clippers are right behind them at 3/1.
There is a limit to how much poor play will be accepted, though. Eventually the odds will move in the other direction.
First the Lakers were playing average defense and bad offense. Then against the Nuggets, they played solid offense and bad defense. They have yet to put together a complete performance since their Utah Jazz victory back on August 3.
The suspension of the NBA season was supposed to be good for the Lakers. Popular wisdom was that it would allow James to recover from playing so much during the year and permit everyone else to get healthy.
Clearly that has not happened.
There is still time for everything to change – but it needs to happen quick. Otherwise someone else is going to end up raising the championship banner that many have already all but hung in the Staples Center rafters.