The Los Angeles Lakers earned their most impressive win of the season Thursday night, while the Boston Celtics arguably ceded their worst loss. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined with injuries, Austin Reaves and Co. handed a fully staffed C’s team their third home defeat of the season, 114-105. Joe Mazzulla sat Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis early in the third quarter due to the team’s lack of focus, and this could simply be a weird result a couple of weeks before the All-Star break, but it also could be something more for both squads.
Let’s begin with LA, who is sitting at .500 despite AD missing only four games and James just six. For a group that put the fear of god in the Western Conference a year ago, making it to the conference finals as a play-in team, this year has been an abject disaster considering where we thought they would be.
Perhaps that was misguided given the state of the two teams LA beat to get to the WCF — Golden State and Memphis are currently sitting outside of the play-in — but you’d think the cohesion and chemistry built from that playoff run would’ve carried over. Reaves hasn’t been the guy LA paid him to be until the past couple of games. Ditto for Rui Hachimura, who’s shooting it well, but isn’t contributing much else.
Free-agent signing Gabe Vincent is hurt, yet he’s not the fulcrum of anything. While losing Lonnie Walker IV hurt, it shouldn’t have, and I’m still at a loss as to why D’Angelo Russell attempts the third-most field goals on this team.
One could blame Cam Reddish and Christian Wood, but they’re certified losers who can only be trusted as contributors next to all-time great players, like, say, King James. The fact that they’ve been immune to the LeBron bump is telling, albeit unsurprising.
The only real trade asset is James, who local LA sports anchor David Pingalore said the team is shopping around. I don’t believe LeBron will be traded because LeBron has never been traded, Rich Paul said he won’t be traded, and I don’t know how many teams are in the market for a 39-year-old player/coach/GM. I would vote for exiling D’Lo to Antarctica just so he can’t chuck 13 shots per game, but LA is short on guards, and he’s a necessary evil/untradable.
The Lakers don’t have an out, and the only hope is that Reaves gets going. Thursday’s win could be the start of another second-half surge like last year. However, aside from Vincent’s return — slated for early March — I don’t understand what changes to prompt said surge.
Which brings me to Boston, the team with the NBA’s best record that I still don’t fully trust. They didn’t drop a home contest until Jan. 19 against the Denver Nuggets, but have since lost home games to each of LA’s teams. While it feels like the toughness and defense learned under former coach Ime Udoka is still there, something is amiss with the Celtics.
Fans will point to Mazzulla for that, and it’s a fair criticism. Boston has the most talented starting five in the league, and when they play as one, are near impossible to beat. It’s just that it doesn’t happen enough when they’re backed into a corner. For a group with scoring options at every position, it’s malpractice that they’re 20th in assists per game.
When things aren’t going well, guys lose focus and too often revert to spot-up shooters and ball watching. I know Jayson Tatum has a deep bag of offensive moves, but the most difficult forays should be reserved for bail-out situations. As much as I love Holiday, and am enjoying Derrick White’s apex season, there needs to be an adult on the floor who will get after Brown, Tatum and Porzingis when they stagnate. That’s what made Rajon Rondo so valuable for the Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Kevin Garnett Celtics.
Seeing as Boston doesn’t have a true facilitator/resident assh-le willing to upset the Kumbaya vibes, including Joe Mazz, they’re going to have to do it collectively. Unfortunately, Milwaukee already made the move of firing their coach and replacing him with Mr. Ubuntu. So, like the Lakers, the changes will have to be internal because Boston also doesn’t have much to offer in a trade.
The media can slam on the panic button all they want for both the Lakers and Celtics, but the only outcome would be panic. And honestly, the problems aren’t about roster moves, getting healthy or external factors. It’s about Los Angeles and Boston self-correcting their issues.
Original source here
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