In a season full of lows, the Lakers’ third-quarter performance in their 123-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday night presented a new low point for their disappointing 2021-22 season.
The third quarter was a “let me out do the previous mistake” cycle. Head-scratching turnovers into the stands, multiple missed open layups and half-hearted defensive rotations, and that was only the beginning of the latest Lakers mess.
Lakers faithful let their players know that their effort on the court was abysmal. The team quit on a game that was a close one at the half. The mistake after mistake was a microcosm of the entire season, one which lakers fans are tired of now. LeBron James, Trevor Ariza and Russell Westbrook all took their chances at verbal confrontations with the rambunctious crowd, furthering a new low amidst their journey to their current rock bottom.
It was ugly and unwatchable, hence why I shut the game off in favor for the Euphoria finale. Watching Ash get gunned down in front of Fez was an easier watch than LeBron and Westbrook refusing to rotate on defense.
Even Lakers governor Jeanie Buss left her fourth-row seats midway through the quarter, as the team was outscored, 44-25.
The 27-33 Lakers, who have lost nine of their last 12 games as their season continues to spiral out of control, have seemingly set the nadir for their season each passing week.
But Sunday’s blowout loss, in which the Lakers trailed by as many as 32 points amid their quest to ascend the West standings, stumped the locker room.
“I don’t have an answer for tonight,” LeBron James said. “Tonight, from the six-minute point of the second quarter through the third, no answers.”
Dwight Howard added: “Really at a loss for words.”
At the 6:42 mark of the second quarter, the Pelicans led the Lakers, 36-33. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers trailed the Pelicans, 95-65 — a 59-32 run that blew the game open.
“We didn’t play well,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, who received a technical foul in the third quarter. “We’re not shooting the ball well from the perimeter, and the paint’s clogged, and we’re trying to force inside — with the pass, with the bounce — and it’s leading to a lot of turnovers. And we’re not moving that well defensively. So, we weren’t very good on either end tonight.”
The Lakers shot 41.7 percent overall and 20.6 percent on 3-pointers (7 of 34). But their season-high-tying 23 turnovers — including seven from James and seven from Russell Westbrook — was the standout statistic, leading to 25 points for the Pelicans. In comparison, the Lakers only had 15 assists.
There was a carelessness to Los Angeles’ offensive approach and a clear disconnect between teammates on a handful of mistimed miscues. New Orleans’ 16 steals were tied for the eighth-most steals a team has had this season.
“You have 23 turnovers, you’re not going to win,” Vogel said. “I’ll have to look at all the turnovers, but some of it’s carelessness, and some of it’s we’re ice cold from the perimeter right now; we’re trying to attack the paint, and there’s five guys in there, so we’re trying to just execute through that. But we definitely got to be better.”
All season I have been an apologist for the Lakers; “Wait for a healthy AD and Bron,” or “Give Westbrook time to gel.” But I’m done. AD won’t be back for 5 weeks. LeBron appears to be checked out emotionally. Westbrook, you know how I feel about that.
Since the All-Star break, the ninth-seeded Lakers have lost to the team ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, the LA Clippers, and to their most-likely Play-In Tournament opponent, the 10th-seeded Pelicans. With Anthony Davis out for several more weeks and an increasingly difficult schedule the rest of the season, there is little cause for optimism around LakerLand.
A play in appearance seems inevitable, but even that isn’t a lock right now. Confidence in anything more than that is at a 0.1% right now. The slither of hope is still a healthy AD and LeBron remains the best duo in the league, but we haven’t got that since 2020 so what are we even discussing at this point.
The Lakers have trailed by double digits in the first halves of five of their past seven games. This time, though, there was no second-half rally to make the game competitive. The Lakers all but waved a white flag in the second half against the Pelicans, with each mistake compounding on the next as the boos grew louder. Shoulders slumped. Teammates argued and pointed fingers. Effort waned.
Howard, who has replaced Davis as the team’s starting center, called out the team’s body language during the second half.
“Our body language has to be better when things like that happen,” Howard said. “When we have a situation like this where we’re getting blown out, we have to make sure we keep ourselves composed, as tough as it can be.”
The Lakers are running out of time and seemingly heading in the wrong direction. They’re closer to being the 12th seed than they are the seventh seed in the West. And nothing they’ve shown since returning from the All-Star break — and, to a larger extent, nothing they’ve shown this season — indicates that they’re capable of adjusting and turning things around.