Analysis: Lakers are going to have to look for some help

Oct 26, 2022, 6:05 PM | Updated: Oct 27, 2022, 6:09 am
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James heads to the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball ...

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James heads to the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

              Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James argues for a call with a referee in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Los Angeles Lakers guards Russell Westbrook, left, and Lonnie Walker IV react as time runs out in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James heads to the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The season isn’t even two weeks old. Only 5% of the games have been played. Drawing any conclusions at this point would be ridiculous.

Except, perhaps, this one: The Los Angeles Lakers are in trouble.

The Lakers are taking an 0-4 record into Friday’s game at Minnesota. They’re at the bottom of the Western Conference, and if Orlando wasn’t 0-5 the Lakers would have the worst record in the NBA. They’re 78-87 since winning the 2020 NBA title. LeBron James — on pace to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA career scoring leader in a few months — is winless after four games for the second time in his career, the other being his rookie season.

“There’s plenty of time for us to right the ship,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It starts now. It starts yesterday.”

It should have started in July.

The Lakers surely know this: James is at his best when surrounded by shooters. They maximize the value of his passing game and they open lanes for him to attack the rim, which even in Year 20 he does probably as well as anyone.

And this team, evidently, doesn’t have shooters. The Lakers better go find some.

Frank Vogel got blamed, Russell Westbrook gets shamed, and it’s entirely possible that neither of those guys is the primary reason why the Lakers are struggling. They were 8 for 30 — 26.7% — from 3-point range against Denver on Wednesday night. They’re shooting 22.3% from beyond the arc so far this season, by far the worst in the NBA. Small sample size, but awful nonetheless.

“We’ve got to make some shots,” James said after the 110-99 loss to the Nuggets.

It sounds simple. It isn’t.

The last time a team shot worse than 22.3% from 3-point range in a season was 1990-91. Washington — then the Bullets — shot 19.4% that season. They made only 55 shots from deep that whole season. It wasn’t really a part of the offense.

Now, 3’s are essential. Vital. An absolute must. The Lakers are averaging 25 points per game from 3-point range. The league average, entering Thursday, is 36. That’s an 11-point difference. The Lakers aren’t good enough right now to make up an 11-point difference.

“Obviously, it’s four games. Obviously, the four games that we’ve been playing have been on national TV. Obviously, everyone’s been able to watch,” Lakers guard Patrick Beverley said. “The critique is there for everyone to do. But it’s the game of basketball. Everyone’s going to even out.”

It’s not just the shooting. Westbrook isn’t healthy; hamstrings are touchy, so who knows when he’ll be right again. Anthony Davis — the guy who was supposed to extend James’ career by being Robin to his Batman, or even vice versa — has been dogged by injury after injury, and he was grabbing at his left side repeatedly in Wednesday’s loss in Denver. The Lakers didn’t have Kendrick Nunn at all last year, they haven’t had Dennis Schroder yet this year and won’t for probably a few more weeks.

It’s always something.

But shooting better is the quickest fix.

Miami figured out the formula that turned James into a champion: surround him with shooters and let him work. In the Miami days, it was Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and — of course — Ray Allen. The Cleveland title year, he had J.R. Smith and Kevin Love, with Kyrie Irving knocking down perhaps the biggest 3 of that season in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The title year with the Lakers, there was Danny Green.

On this Lakers team, there’s … well, not really anybody yet.

Key word: Yet. A trade has to be coming.

Blaming Westbrook isn’t fair. He’s not an elite shooter. Never has been. This isn’t news. But he averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists last season. He was one of five players who finished last season with those averages. Five. Luka Doncic, James Harden, Dejounte Murray and two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic were the others. Saying 33-49 was Westbrook’s fault is comical.

But his massive-and-expiring contract that will bring back the most in return, and that’s why he’ll be the player that is moved if the Lakers find a dance partner.

The Lakers aren’t the only team off to perhaps a surprising — not the good kind of surprising — start. Brooklyn is taking a 1-3 record into Dallas on Thursday night. Philadelphia is 1-4 going into its game Friday at Toronto. Miami avoided a 1-4 start by winning in Portland on Wednesday.

But 1-3, 2-3 and 1-4 all are better than 0-4. The West is loaded. The Lakers have given all the contenders a head start. And if the Lakers don’t make a move soon, this season looks destined to end like last season did: badly, and early.

___

Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Indiana Pacers guard Buddy Hield, right, looks for an opening past Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (1...
Associated Press

Adebayo scores 38, Heat hold off sliding Pacers 116-111

MIAMI (AP) — Bam Adebayo tied his season high with 38 points, Jimmy Butler added 25 and the Miami Heat held off the Indiana Pacers 116-111 on Wednesday night. Gabe Vincent had 17, Tyler Herro scored 15 and Caleb Martin finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who snapped a two-game slide. […]
20 hours ago
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, rear, is blocked on a dunk attempt against Boston Celtics ce...
Associated Press

Celtics lose Jaylen Brown, hold on to beat Sixers 106-99

BOSTON (AP) — With three of Boston’s regular starters out — and Jaylen Brown soon to join them — Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White scored 19 points apiece to lead the Celtics to a 106-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. Jayson Tatum had 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for Boston, […]
20 hours ago
Marquette's Emily La Chapell reacts during after an NCAA college basketball game against UConn Wedn...
Associated Press

UConn women lose 2nd straight game for 1st time since 1993

MILWAUKEE (AP) — UConn lost back-to-back games for the first time in three decades after the fourth-ranked Huskies were beaten 59-52 by Marquette on Wednesday night. The Huskies, who were playing three nights after an 81-77 home loss to No. 1 South Carolina, lost consecutive games for the first time since March 1993. “We knew […]
20 hours ago
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) shoots against San Antonio Spurs forward Isaiah Roby (18) ...
Associated Press

Siakam scores 37, Raptors hand Spurs 10th straight loss

TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 10 rebounds, Fred VanVleet scored 16 points and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 112-98 on Wednesday night, handing the struggling Spurs their 10th consecutive loss. Chris Boucher had 18 points and 11 rebounds off the bench in Toronto’s third straight win. Gary Trent Jr. scored […]
20 hours ago
FILE - Sheryl Lee Ralph arrives at AARP's 21st annual Movies for Grownups Awards on Saturday, Jan. ...
Associated Press

At Super Bowl, Sheryl Lee Ralph seeks to ‘Lift Every Voice’

PHOENIX (AP) — Sheryl Lee Ralph is living a career dream: The “Abbott Elementary” star won her first Emmy last year and will lend her powerful vocals as a Super Bowl pregame performer this weekend. With all her success, the veteran actor-singer only wishes her late parents were living to witness her recent accomplishments. “I […]
20 hours ago
Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis (6) defends as Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washingt...
Associated Press

Porzingis makes eight 3s as Wizards beat Hornets, end skid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis scored 36 points and matched a career high with eight 3-pointers, and the Washington Wizards beat the Charlotte Hornets 118-104 on Wednesday night to stop a three-game skid. Deni Avdija had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Bradley Beal had 17 points and 10 assists for the Wizards, who broke […]
20 hours ago
Analysis: Lakers are going to have to look for some help