While health and safety protocols are affecting rosters across the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers’ disappointing play has little to do with COVID-19.
The Lakers, who visit the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, are riding a five-game losing streak. They fell to Brooklyn 122-115 on Christmas Day even though the visiting Nets were without three of their top five scorers, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris.
Yes, the Lakers have been impacted by positive tests and injuries, with both Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn sidelined by injuries, but they have been a disjointed team all season, and their latest struggles are par for the course.
Tuesday’s matchup is the first of back-to-back road games for the Lakers, who travel to Memphis on Wednesday.
In trying to snap their skid in Houston, the Lakers will again lean heavily on LeBron James, who has averaged 31.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists during the losing streak.
“I don’t really care about the way I play if it comes in a loss,” said James, who will turn 37 years old on Thursday. “When I’m on the floor, I’m just trying to do my part and more, hold myself accountable, hold my teammates accountable. When I’m on the floor, that’s all I can ask of myself.
“Obviously it’s been difficult through this stretch, but that won’t stop me. I’m going to continue what I’ve been doing.”
With Davis benched by a medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee, the Lakers have had ample time to unlock James’ pairing with Russell Westbrook, who has scuffled this season and was up and down against the Nets on Saturday.
Westbrook missed 16 of 20 shots while recording a triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. His 15.8 Player Efficiency Rating this season is the lowest since his rookie year in 2008-09.
Westbrook remains undaunted and was borderline defiant following practice Monday in his commitment to playing the way he’s always played. With two days off between games, the Lakers are hopeful for a reset and some understanding of the problems that are plaguing them.
“This was the first time we were able to practice in a while with COVID and the different things that have been happening with our team,” Westbrook said. “It was good to be able to do that and get some reps in with some things and try to find ways to bring positives out of our losses.”
The Rockets had mostly sidestepped COVID-related issues prior to Monday. They played without six rotation players after D.J. Augustin, Kenyon Martin Jr., Garrison Mathews and Jae’Sean Tate all entered health and safety protocols in advance of a 123-99 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Houston also played without its starting backcourt of Kevin Porter Jr. (thigh) and rookie Jalen Green (rest) while taking a fourth consecutive loss, but both should be available Tuesday.
Still, the Rockets were forced to lean on a pair of G-League call-ups (Trevelin Queen and Daishen Nix), while three other rookies logged significant minutes in the loss to the Hornets. Queen put up a team-best 17 points after never scoring more than two in an NBA game previously.
“It’s hard when you have guys who haven’t played, but we were there last year,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “But they’re learning and they’re growing. But going through it is painful, for sure.”
–Field Level Media