We, the American people, have had a lot of pleasure to Los Angeles Lakers expenses for most of 2022. LeBron James missed a lot of time at the start of last season, and Anthony Davis missed the majority of the 2021-22 season. However, it became clear in January, when they were both on the court during the All-Star break, that the Lakers would not be a playoff team.
Then they missed the playoffs completely. Russell Westbrook was benched in the fourth quarter and hours after the game ended, it was leaked that the move had the full support of management. Kurt Rambis was delivering messages to the coaching staff and Westbrook was getting booed by the home crowd when he took jump shots.
The NBA crown jewel franchise seemed inept, and somehow it got worse this season. A suitable trade for Westbrook’s expiring contract has not been found. They got rid of most of their cast, then brought in Patrick Beverley, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Thomas Bryant – who has yet to play this season due to injury – and hoped a Kendrick Nunn healthy and a more experienced Austin Reaves could contribute.
Nothing worked out at the start of this season, and the Lakers were a giant stink bomb. Worst team in the league, starting 2022-23 at 0-5. Westbrook dominated the news cycle with his late brick in a narrow loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, and constant speculation about what his role would be while he’s still on the roster. Moreover, Anthony Davis is trying his best to play despite a back injury, perhaps tired of the nicknames he gets for constantly missing games.
There was legitimate concern over when the Lakers would get their first win, with no team under .500 on their schedule until Nov. 11. And then last night pride took over against the Denver Nuggets and their two-time MVP Nikola Jokić.
Somehow, the terrible 3-point Lakers made 43.3% of their shots from behind the arc. Matt Ryan may have been on the bench in Indianapolis, but in Los Angeles Matt Ryan helped the Lakers take the lead late in the third quarter with a big three-peat. In 12 big minutes, Ryan, who spent last season mostly with the Grand Rapids Gold and Maine Celtics of the G-League, went 2-4 out of three.
It was a true team effort by the Lakers to end their embarrassing start to the season. Austin Reaves scored +15 in 27 minutes on the ground and scored some of the game’s biggest shots late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. Lonnie Walker IV scored 18 points. Troy Brown Jr. started and went 4-8 from the field in 26 minutes and grabbed six rebounds.
When it came time for the Lakers to tidy up the Nuggets, Davis looked like the star who was supposed to be worth trading all that draft capital to the New Orleans Pelicans. He dodged the 3-point line and cooked his midrange jumper with a few late buckets to secure that 121-110 win.
Perhaps the best sight of the game was Westbrook interacting with the Crypto.com crowd which has been tough on him for much of 2022. He came off the bench and had 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists with only three turnovers, also went 2-4 from the 3-point line. A clip went viral late in the third quarter of the crowd responding to Westbrook and giving the team a standing ovation.
Westbrook took a lot of heat just to be on this team. The Lakers sacrificed a lot to acquire him, and it’s not his fault. Yes, he didn’t play at star level, but he only did half a season with the Washington Wizards in 2020-21. The Lakers must have known they weren’t getting the MVP version of him. Yet the weight of blame for the Lakers’ failures has fallen on him, just as it did when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder because Westbrook’s style – on and off the court – is so powerful that it always attracts attention.
No win is comforting when a team of veteran players go 1-5, but the Lakers have at least shown they’re capable of taking a game against one of the best teams in the NBA when it’s on. Game.
If they lose two in a row the jokes will come back, but for one night the Lakers got to feel good about themselves. It’s a shame it’s come to this point, but maybe this is the moment they needed for a change this season.