LeBron James’ Absence Against the Spurs Was Oddly Just What the New-Look Lakers Needed

The new-look Los Angeles Lakers didn’t look too impressive through the first three games of the new NBA season. LA started the year 1-2 with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook all in the starting lineup, and it looked to be on its way to 1-3 with James sidelined for Tuesday night’s matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.

But maybe LeBron taking a night off was exactly what the Lakers needed to find some much-needed confidence, as Westbrook turned in his best performance of the season by far and role players stepped up in a big way in LA’s impressive overtime victory.

Lakers find a way to win without LeBron James

This hasn’t been the start Lakers fans were expecting. LA fell to the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns in back-to-back home games to start the year, and its completely revamped roster didn’t seem to be on the same page out of the gate.

The Lakers squeaked out their first victory against the Memphis Grizzlies over the weekend, but their chances seemed grim on Tuesday night with James on the sidelines. Even without their best player and leader in the lineup, the Lakers came together and knocked off the Spurs in overtime, 125-121.

Davis was the star of the show, as he went for 35 points and 17 rebounds in the win, and Westbrook also found his rhythm after a tough start to the year. The point guard scored a season-high 33 points on 15-of-27 shooting and tallied 10 rebounds and eight assists in the game. Even more impressively, Westbrook was the go-to guy down the stretch and powered the Lakers to victory with some clutch buckets in overtime.

Malik Monk also turned in his best performance as a Laker, as the 23-year-old knocked down four threes and was a game-high +31 while on the floor, while rookie Austin Reaves and veterans Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard contributed valuable minutes off the bench.

This could be a victory that gets the Lakers on a roll.

LeBron James’ absence is oddly just what the Lakers needed

The Lakers made a statement on Tuesday night without LeBron James.
Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers hug after defeating the San Antonio Spurs | Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Westbrook has been an awkward fit alongside LeBron in LA’s starting lineup to begin the year. The nine-time All-Star averaged just 12 points on 34.9% shooting in the first three games of the season, which was a troubling start for a player who’s always known how to fill up a stat sheet.

But without James in the lineup, Westbrook got back to his aggressive self against the Spurs and proved why the Lakers traded for him in the first place. It’s possible Westbrook was starting to lose confidence in his new role, but Tuesday night’s performance should get him right back on track.

Monk also gained some much-needed confidence in his first start with his new team. The fifth-year guard could wind up being the Lakers’ biggest 3-point threat in 2021, so they need him to be firing up shots as he did against the Spurs.

The Lakers proved on Tuesday night that they don’t need LeBron to be a winning team, but they’ll still need to learn how to play with their future Hall of Famer going forward.

Still a work in progress

The Lakers sent a powerful message by gutting out a win without James, but their problems are far from fixed.

Westbrook looks like a shell of himself when playing alongside LeBron. He only attempted 43 shots in the first three games of the season combined, and he wasn’t creating for his teammates the way he has in the past. That’s because Westbrook has always been the main ball-handler for his team. The problem? So has LeBron, and he’s not going to hand the reins over to Westbrook in LA.

Either Westbrook will have to learn how to play as an off-ball player, or the Lakers will have to start mixing and matching lineups to let both James and Westbrook run the offense in separate spurts.

Tuesday night’s win proved Westbrook needs to be the No. 1 option on the offensive end to be the most effective. It’ll be interesting to see how the Lakers try to maximize his strengths when James returns to the lineup.

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