Why next stretch on Lakers’ schedule will make or break their season after impressive win vs. Nets
Darvin Ham used Sunday’s post-game press conference to settle a debate that has been raging between him and the media throughout the season. “Irregardless is a word,” Ham joked after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 116-103. “I Googled it. You say it’s not. It’s in Google and it actually has an example of how it’s used. See the fun things we get to talk about when we win?”
It was a far cry from the dour mood that followed Friday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings. As Anthony Davis described it, “The energy around our locker room feels like 2-10.” Of course, that much was evident on Thursday, when Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes suggested that the front office’s inaction “could prompt key players to sour on the direction of the franchise.”
Davis is one of those key players. His 37-point explosion against Brooklyn led to Sunday’s win. His struggles to assert himself in that way were part of what led to those 10 losses. And if the Lakers are going to make the sort of moves that would prevent players like Davis and LeBron James from souring on the franchise, they are going to need to see a lot more of the former than the latter.
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Fortunately, the schedule is favorable enough for them to do so. In fact, Sunday marked the beginning of what will almost certainly be the easiest stretch the team will face all season. Brooklyn was the first team the Lakers have played all season that was below .500 on the day the game was played. Three of their next six games will come against the San Antonio Spurs, who may have started the season hot, but just snapped a five-game losing streak only by beating a Milwaukee Bucks team missing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. Also on the docket: the 3-11 Detroit Pistons, the not-tanking-yet-but-could-start-at-any-moment Indiana Pacers, and a lone contender in the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix will be favored in that game, but the Lakers couldn’t ask to catch the Suns at a better time. Cam Johnson is out and Chris Paul is currently dealing with a heel injury. Oh, and the Lakers have four days off before this stretch begins Friday against the Pistons.
Take all six and the Lakers are suddenly just a game below .500. Even in the likelier event that they win four or five, the No. 10 seed is suddenly in smelling distance. A difficult December awaits the Lakers, so if the season isn’t saved here and now, it likely never will be. If the Lakers do impress in this stretch, it might even bring them reinforcements.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski told Lakers fans in October not to expect a major trade until at least Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving will come smack dab in the middle of this six-game stretch. The Athletic’s Shams Charania gave a 20-25 game timeline for a possible deal. When these six games have been played, the Lakers will have a total of 19 under the belt. If the Lakers do make a major trade, likely involving Russell Westbrook, it is probably going to come after a successful run through these six games. If the Lakers are 8-11 or 7-12, the current roster might be able to convince the front office to give up its two available first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 for immediate upgrades. At 6-13 or worse? That’s going to be a very tough sell. If this front office is going to save the season, it first needs to be shown that the season is capable of being saved.
Of course, the other side of that coin has been the availability of worthwhile talent on the trade market. So far as we know, the Indiana package involving Myles Turner and Buddy Hield is still on the table despite incredible starts for both Pacers. Hield has made more 3-pointers than anyone not named Stephen Curry thus far this season. Turner is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds and true shooting percentage while blocking more than three shots per game.
Six more games mean six more opportunities for Hield and Turner to convince the Lakers to trade for them. Most reports have suggested that, to this point, the Lakers have their sights set on bigger names. Whether or not the Lakers should trade for Kyrie Irving is a matter of personal opinion, but the Nets have likely never been more eager to give him away. No other stars appear to be immediately available. Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Golden State and Minnesota are all at .500 or below despite lofty preseason expectations. A tough stretch for any of them might change who they’re determined to keep.
All of this creates a shred of hope for a team that, by Davis’ own admission, had little of it as recently as Friday. Get the next few weeks right and Ham will have plenty of opportunities to joke with the beat writers. Fail and the locker room is going to feel a whole lot worse than 2-10.