As an avowed Los Angeles Lakers fan, I monitored the early Sunday morning game against league-leading Utah Jazz (42-14), and, halfway into the game, I am both worried and upset with how the Lakers were playing the game.
Of course, the Jazz is expected to perform the way a No. 1 team should, especially with the Lakers’ dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis still out due to an assortment of injuries, in addition to then-starting center Marc Gasol also in street clothes for the game. But the Jazz is without at least three of its own starters too, with Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley not suiting up for the much-awaited match.
And yet, by halftime, the Lakers are just up by three points, 65-62. I must say I was a bit relieved when the defending champs put a little bit of separation from the Jazz by ending the third canto up by 12, 94-82. But then the Lakers fell into that scoreless spell again around midway of the fourth and final stanza, allowing Utah to not just climb out of that 12-point hole but to even go ahead, 110-98, via an 18-4 run.
In fact, had Dennis Schroder not tie the score with about a couple of seconds left in the clock, we could have lost a game that we led for at least three-fourths of the way and with it the golden chance of beating a Utah Jazz team at their weakest.
Finally, in the five-minute extension period, we were able to show the defensive grit that this team has surprisingly maintained minus LeBron and AD, limiting the opposition to just 5 markers the rest of the way while scoring 17 points of our own to win, 127-115, with plenty to spare.
Of course, there are certain positive things that can be gleaned from this near-loss despite that they should have won it in regulation, first of which is that all five starters, with the addition of an off-the-bench guy, produced double-digit scores, with three of them registering at least 25 points. It’s a special joy to see Andre Drummond, Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope play beautiful music together and take over down the stretch, with “The Big Penguin” finally dominating inside, Dennis The Menace no longer waiting for scoring opportunities to present itself to him, and KCP saying goodbye to those off-nights haunting him in past games.
Another plus is Markieff Morris, who is playing the best stretch of his career as a Laker, something that was almost impossible had LBJ and AD been in harness for Coach Frank Vogel. He may have scored only 10 points but collared a game-best 12 rebounds, certainly all-important caroms if we consider that this game went into overtime.
Meanwhile, as a team, the Lakers were able to collar 52 rebounds. Frankly, I can’t recall the team having had that many rebounds in a game since LeBron and AD went down with injuries. Aside from Morris, ADr and Monster Harrell should also be commended with 8 and 7 rebs, respectively.
In addition, with AD out and Dwight Howard and Javale McGee no longer with LA, another thing worth mentioning is the 8 blocks registered by the Lakers as well as their huge 62-36 advantage in paint points.
If only the Lakers can be this consistent minus their two stars, then there is reason to believe that they can indeed be scary “like a thunderstorm” once LeBron and AD come out of sickbay and join them for the final push of their repeat bid about a week or so from now.