The Lakers headed into their set-to yesterday bent on snapping out of their first losing run of the 2020-21 season of the National Basketball Association. The fact that they managed to go through a full fourth of their campaign to defend their title before suffering from consecutive setbacks may well be deemed an achievement by some quarters, but not by them. For all the handicaps that came with the shortest turnaround in league history, they understood both the privilege and the burden of the embarrassment of riches their roster provides. And so their objective yesterday was clear; they had to win, period.
As things turned out, the Lakers needed strong defense in the payoff period to eke out the victory they sought. They didn’t play particulate well, and, were in fact, fresh off an atrocious third quarter in which they scored 10 less points with a disjointed offense. Still, they managed to buckle down to work and put the clamps on the Celtics until a favorable outcome appeared to be in sight with a minute and a half left in the match. Then, for some reason, they sputtered and very nearly snatched defeat from the throes of triumph. Only sheer luck prevented them from absorbing yet another loss; guard Kemba Walker, still without legs on monitored minutes, muffed a trademark fadeaway in the left pocket, while center Daniel Theis failed to can the followup shot at the buzzer.
Clearly, the Lakers have hit a rough patch. They remained confident in the post-mortem, but they know they dodged a bullet. They didn’t need to exert a lot of effort digging out of a deep hole against the Sixers. They should have won handily against the otherwise-overmatched Pistons, the absence of All-Star Anthony Davis notwithstanding. And they couldn’t find any semblance of consistency in both ends of the floor yesterday. Granted, they’re taking the long view. And, granted, they’re bound to get better given the talent at their disposal. That said, good habits need time to develop — and time is a luxury these days, especially in the face of a pandemic.
Were the playoffs to start today, the Lakers would be the third seed. Not bad, but nowhere near good enough vis-a-vis the strength of the competition. Their missteps, however few, have already brought them down notches in the standings; imagine if they continue their roller-coaster ride. True, they deserve the benefit of the doubt as defending champions. And, true, they have the ultimate trump card in LeBron James. Then again, they’re nothing if not vulnerable now, and the sooner they get their acts together, the better their path back to the top will be.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.