LeBron James’ Absence Can Be Overcome if the Los Angeles Lakers Continue to Abandon Their Opening Night Rotation

The Los Angeles Lakers‘ roller coaster of a season continues. The latest blow stems from LeBron James entering health and safety protocols just hours before LA’s game on Tuesday. However, the Purple and Gold dominated in the second half and defeated the Sacramento Kings for their third win in four games.

LA’s victory should help Lakers fans stomach James being out of action for at least 10 days. But they have even more reason for encouragement after seeing how head coach Frank Vogel significantly altered his rotation.

LeBron James missing games is nothing new for the Lakers

The Lakers acquired Anthony Davis in 2019 knowing full well of his durability concerns. But it’s been LeBron who has spent far more time on the bench than the team ever anticipated.

James has been out more than ever since signing with LA in 2018. The King missed 27 games in 2018-19, another 27 in 2020-21, and has now missed 12 of 23 games in 2021-22. This campaign has been particularly frustrating, with LeBron sitting out due to a combination of ankle and abdomen injuries, a one-game suspension, and COVID-19.

LeBron, who has yet to play more than three games in a row this season, is essential for the Lakers righting the ship and winning a title. But Tuesday’s win over Sacramento showed how a change in the rotation can help his absence go smoothly.

Frank Vogel is finally making the right playing time decisions

When James missed eight games in a row earlier in the year, the Lakers failed to find a consistent winning combination on the court. During that stretch, Vogel started Avery Bradley all eight games, Kent Bazemore in five games, and DeAndre Jordan in four games. Carmelo Anthony also started three games just before James re-entered the starting lineup.

Tuesday against the Kings, the Lakers won 117-92, easily their most lopsided victory of the season. And they did so with either limited or no minutes for those aforementioned role players.

Jordan started the game but was benched after just four minutes. In his place, Dwight Howard played a whopping 35 minutes and contributed 12 points, 13 rebounds, and a +27 plus-minus. Elsewhere, Bradley was out for the game with a right thumb sprain. So his starting spot went to Wayne Ellington, who hit three 3-pointers in 33 minutes of action and led all starters with a +13 rating.

Bazemore, who started all of LA’s first 13 games, saw two minutes of action off of the bench as his role continues to decline. Instead, those minutes went to Malik Monk, who exploded with 22 points and a team-leading +33 rating in 33 minutes. Vogel also limited Anthony, the slumping Talen Horton-Tucker, and an injury-recovering Austin Reaves to under 20 minutes each.

Howard, Ellington, and Monk essentially replaced Jordan, Bradley, and Bazemore in the rotation. As a result, the Lakers outscored the Kings 67-33 in the second half and dominated on both ends.

The Los Angeles Lakers need to stick with this new rotation

Admittedly, basing an opinion off of one game is tricky. But if this Kings blowout showed anything, it’s that LA’s new rotation should stick around for a while longer.

Howard has been a far better fit than Jordan this season, particularly on defense. Even if Vogel insists on starting DJ, Howard needs more time on the court than his fellow center. The same goes for Ellington and Monk, whose offensive ratings are significantly higher than Bradley and Bazemore’s.

The Lakers are also picking a good time to try out a new rotation. LA has back-to-back home games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, two teams who entering Wednesday are just 11-10 each. They’ll then travel to play an 11-10 Memphis Grizzlies squad before LeBron potentially returns against the 6-14 Oklahoma City Thunder.

If and when James comes back is up in the air. But as long as he remains out, the Lakers look like they’ve finally figured out how they can survive his absence.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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