Lakers reset: The West is still forgiving. Can the Lakers stay afloat?

Editor’s note: This is the Monday, January 1, edition of the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

We skipped a week of the reset (hope you had a great holiday season) in part because the Lakers weren’t winning any games. Looking back on a week that can be told largely through LeBron James quotes:


Tuesday, W, Lakers 129, Orlando Magic 110
Wednesday, L, Miami Heat 112, Lakers 98
Friday, W, Lakers 130, Atlanta Hawks 121

As of Monday morning, the Lakers (15-21) are tied for 12th with the Oklahoma City Thunder in theWestern Conference standings, and they are nine games behind the first-place Denver Nuggets (24-12). They’re 2.5 games behind the Utah Jazz (19-20) for a play-in slot and 4.5 games behind the Sacramento Kings (19-16) for a top-6 spot.

HIGH POINT: No contest. James scored a season-high 47 points and nearly had a triple-double on his birthday in Atlanta, a road venue that seems to press him to some of his best games. Afterward, James referenced the advanced analytics about his performance: “I’ve been scoring 30 and it hasn’t worked so….try 40. And we got a win.”

LOW POINT: Miami was miserable. For the entire first half, the Lakers would hold steady with the Heat when James was on the floor, then fall off when he was off it. They never really competed in the second half (despite a fourth quarter that looked good, but didn’t really see them close). That was when James chose the moment to unload: “playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA. It’s not in my DNA anymore.”

TRENDING TOPIC: Before the Lakers topped the Hawks on Friday, there was a certain “sky is falling” energy around the franchise, losers of five of their previous six with Anthony Davis on a nebulous timeline to return. But there’s a curious trend if you look at the Western Conference standings: Between the sixth-place Kings and the 15th-place Rockets, no team is better than 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Lakers are 4-6 during that stretch, including a win (mostly without Davis) against the current top dog in the conference. Hmm.

Throughout the entire league, the Nets, Sixers and Nuggets are hot (8-2 or better), and everyone else has been fairly mediocre, including the Lakers. Hold on, this is meant to be inspiring: After tonight, the Lakers will have already played half of their road schedule (thanks to a hellish December), finishing 2023 with 26 of their remaining 47 games at home. They have the Rockets three times, the Thunder three times, the Wolves twice. Their next five games include the Hornets, Heat, Hawks and Kings – all winnable games.

If the Lakers are able to hold on for Davis, either with the current group or finding some kind of trade, and stay afloat or even gain ground in the next week, the West has been relatively forgiving so far. Tobe clear, this will be a tall task as things stand: The Lakers have been the last-place defense in the NBA over their last seven games (122.7 defensive rating) and have been crushed even on good nights from James.

But these are officially the dog days. The season has to be taken in bite-sized chunks. If the Lakers mentally get ahead of themselves – focusing on the trade deadline, or feeling the weight of the entire season bearing down on them – they could crumble. It has discussed in this space how little margin for error the team has for success. The theme of the coming week should be, “Hold on.” If Davis can return during January, finding himself on a team that has managed to stay near .500 in his absence, that would be an absolute win for the team. Whether or not that’s a respectable bar to set is a question for another day.

READ OF THE WEEK: Speaking of Davis, he met with reporters on a busy Friday to discuss the foot injury that is keeping him out of action, including insight on his decision to try to avoid surgery.

HEATING UP: After an extremely bumpy start to the season, Juan Toscano-Anderson has made a huge impact in the last two games coming off the bench. It might be an indicator of just how desperately the Lakers need size more than anything else, frankly, because the 29-year-old has just made three baskets and 10 rebounds in his two appearances. But check this: The Lakers are plus-21 when he’s out on the floor. The simple act of balancing the lineup (and moving away from units with three small guards) creates better stretches.

COOLING DOWN: Austin Reaves might have had his worst week as a Laker, going 4 for 25 from the field, including an eye-popping 1 for 13 against Atlanta. Beyond lacking his typical shooting efficiency, the second-year swingman also had more turnovers (8) than assists (7). He’s shown enough this season to think some of these struggles will come around, but it offers some disconcerting food for thought about how much some key role players are being asked to do – and whether they’re capable of keeping it up all season long.

INJURY REPORT: While there’s a lot more clarity about Davis’ injury, it would be hard to say that should add confidence to a medical situation that will almost certainly require surgery no later than the offseason. Whether Davis can actually come back and stay healthy will, more or less, decide the fate of this team. No pressure. Aside from Davis, James is listed on the report with left ankle soreness that has followed him for two months now (and he’s played through). Lonnie Walker IV missed the Hawks game with a bruised tailbone and is questionable against the Hornets.

QUOTABLE: While James had a pretty good quote after his birthday performance, I also liked this one from Darvin Ham on the nightly expectations he has for his star: “The dude is nothing short of phenomenal, amazing. But it’s something I expect. Like, it doesn’t blow me away. It’s just something I expect from him. It’s just like, ‘Damn! Carry on.’”

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: There’s really only one question for the rest of the season. Will the Lakers do a trade or will they punt?

COMING UP (All times PT)

Monday, at Charlotte, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Miami, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Friday, Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, at Sacramento, 7 p.m.

– Kyle Goon

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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