It’s been nothing short of a struggle for the Los Angeles Lakers to find any essence of consistency. Much of those efforts have lacked LeBron James‘ presence due to his nagging injury issues. However, James’ expected return on Friday night against the Boston Celtics should push the Lakers to embrace a lineup change.
LeBron James likely to return against the Celtics
The Lakers have limped through much of the 2021-22 campaign without James due to injury.
The 36-year-old has missed the last two-plus weeks because of an abdominal strain. In his absence, Los Angeles holds a 3-5 record, dropping out of consideration as one of the Western Conference’s top teams.
However, the growing expectation is that James will play in Friday’s contest against the Boston Celtics. With the four-time league MVP making his imminent return, here’s the lineup change the team must fully embrace.
LeBron James’ imminent return concludes the Lakers’ fruitless attempts at constructing the perfect lineup
James’ return will provide a much-needed significant boost.
Beyond that, it immediately shifts the starting lineup. James’ extended absence featured third-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker returning after undergoing thumb surgery. Horton-Tucker has excelled as a starter in his first three games, averaging 23.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 49.0% from the floor and 40.0% from 3-point range.
The 20-year-old has quickly cemented his spot as a starter with James back. His production creates another compelling piece to the puzzle, allowing Russell Westbrook to take more of a backseat as a scorer.
Westbrook is demonstrating an increased willingness to embrace his distributor role. He’s coming off a season-high 15 assists in Wednesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, which head coach Frank Vogel called his performance his best as a Laker.
Horton-Tucker’s presence allows the Lakers to place Avery Bradley as a starter. Bradley’s offensive production has wavered, but he continues to be relied upon to take the toughest backcourt defensive assignments, taking more pressure off Westbrook.
The Lakers can finally field a starting lineup with James and Davis playing power forward and center respective, a lineup configuration that the team has desired since the offseason. James playing at power forward will give him lesser ball-handling duties, especially with Horton-Tucker’s presence.
It’s a lineup the Lakers haven’t featured yet due to injuries, but it’s one that Vogel has every reason to try at least until Trevor Ariza returns.
Lakers must exercise plenty of patience
The Lakers are stumbling south fast without James, but the organization was aware of the massive adjustments.
Los Angeles has several familiar faces, but the team depends on many new players to play significant roles. The Lakers are leaning on Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Malik Monk to be considerable offensive factors outside of James and Davis.
Meanwhile, the team remains without key contributors in Ariza, Kendrick Nunn, and rookie Austin Reaves due to injury. Until the Lakers can field a healthy roster, it remains tough sledding toward building their identity and chemistry together.
James’ return is a huge step forward, but it’s also going to take time for him to get his legs under him after missing two-plus weeks. These factors should pump the brakes on the building concern, especially with only 16 GAMES played.
It will take time for the Lakers to find their identity, and the organization must exercise plenty of patience.
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