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Game Day: Have Lakers earned a chance to win?

Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday, Dec. 28, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. Sometimes you wonder if the Lakers’ season can be saved. And sometimes you watch a game like last night’s and hope they’re at least given the chance.

There are good vibes all over L.A. sports today:

The second-place Kings beat the first-place Golden Knights and have won five of six.
The Clippers won as Kawhi Leonard and Norman Powell made a successful return to Toronto.
Elliott Teaford writes that intangibles allowed the Chargers to clinch a playoff spot in a difficult season. Columnist Jim Alexander says this Chargers playoff appearance can be the first of many for Justin Herbert.
Adam Grosbard talks with Travis Dye about the USC running back’s season, injury and future as the Trojans get ready for the Cotton Bowl.
UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern is back to help the Bruins prepare for the Sun Bowl.

The Lakers beat the Magic in Orlando, 129-110. They overcame an opponent that had won eight of its previous nine games, including victories over the Clippers and Celtics. They overcame a much bigger team despite the continued injury absence of Anthony Davis.

While LeBron James played 31 minutes, his fewest in a game he suited up for this season, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, Thomas Bryant matched his season high with 21 points, Patrick Beverley set season highs with 14 points and four threes, Austin Reeves had a high for the month with five assists, and Lonnie Walker IV led with eight points during the crucial phase in which the Lakers expanded their advantage from 35-31 to 58-42 before halftime.

It was the Lakers’ first win in five games, leaving them 14-20 and out of the playoff picture at this point, but it felt notable.

The strong showing by the supporting cast felt all the more significant because our Kyle Goon had just written about the need to improve the roster around James and Davis in a piece headlined, “LeBron James is crying out, but are the Lakers even listening?”

“There was a time when LeBron James’ words could send shockwaves through the league,” Goon began a piece that originated on the Southern California News Group’s Purple & Bold newsletter (sign up here).

But this time, what, if anything, was Lakers management doing in response to James’ very credible criticism of the roster?

“From winning a title two years ago, the Lakers’ roster is now populated with unproven players who are fighting to stay in the league or past-their-prime players who have struggled to adapt to new roles,” Goon wrote.

Kyle went on: “How are the Lakers fulfilling General Manager Rob Pelinka’s stated goal of winning around James, who signed a contract extension that puts him on track to finish his career with the franchise?”

And: “It seems telling that James’ latest subtle criticisms of the roster have barely made a blip on the national basketball landscape, perhaps because it doesn’t seem like that makes any difference with this frontoffice.”

Should the Lakers make a trade or more than one trade before the NBA’s deadline Feb. 9, or is this season too far gone?

Jovan Buha wrote at TheAthletic.com, after the Lakers’ loss in Dallas on Christmas Day: “Reinforcements via trade would obviously help, and the Lakers are still evaluating their options on 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 win-now moves.”

The answer to that dilemma might depend on what chance you give the Lakers to make something respectable out of this season, with or without reinforcements.

The Lakers are winning at a .412 clip. I looked this up, and in the past 10 full NBA seasons, teams that were between .350 and .450 on Dec. 31 made the playoffs or finished at .500 – or both – 27% of the time and won a playoff series 6% of the time.

As of this morning, the Lakers’ chances of making the playoffs are rated at anywhere from 29% (according to PlayoffStatus.com) to 4% (ESPN.com) and 3.9% (Basketball-Reference.com), with a typical estimate around 12% (FiveThirtyEight.com).

As I wrote in October, it would be a shame if James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record – he’s 601 points away – on a mediocre Lakers team.

The front office isn’t likely to share its thinking about possible moves with reporters or with other teams, and that will only bring more speculation and advice from the outside and from knowledgeable close-up observers like our man Kyle Goon.

“If the team were to make a competitive move to at least give James and a healthy Davis a chance,” Goon wrote, “they might find an audience willing to accept the consequences of the sell-out approach, for better or for worse.”

After nights like yesterday, it feels like a chance worth taking.

TODAY

Lakers visit Miami (4:30 p.m., SPSN), seeking their first sweep of two games in two cities in two nights since May 2021.
Ducks host the Golden Knights in a meeting of the bottom and top teams in the Western Conference (7 p.m., BSSC). Ducks update.

READERS REACT

Yesterday’s newsletter asked: If you’re a Rams fan, will you be rooting for or against the Chargers in the NFL playoffs?

Twitter user @TheRamsFan answered: “Never even crossed my mind to cheer for the Chargers. When the Rams aren’t in the playoffs, I generally cheer for the underdogs as long as they’re not from the NFC West.”

NEXT QUESTION

Should the Lakers be willing to trade draft picks to improve this season’s roster? Share your opinion and reason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).

280 CHARACTERS

“Two top teams in the Pacific Division here and #LAKings and #VGK have not disappointed. Pretty sharp and rather intense play from both sides. Maybe the most competitive game at CCA so far this season.” – Kings beat writer Andrew Knoll (@AndrewKnollNHL) during last night’s game at Crypto.com Arena.

1,000 WORDS

In the moment: Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero defends against Lakers forward LeBron James early in last night’s game in Florida, the first meeting between the NBA’s 2022 No. 1 draft pick and his basketball idol. Photo is by Douglas P. DeFelice for Getty Images.

LET’S TALK

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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