May 27, 2021. For most people, it was just a typical Thursday. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s the date of their last victory.
It’s been nearly five months since the Lakers won a game. And after an embarrassing 115-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns with its fair share of in-fighting, things can get much worse for the Purple and Gold. Yet somehow they have found a way, receiving unfortunate news about a key role player with high expectations.
The Lakers have had a disastrous season
LeBron James and Russell Westbrook were two Laker stars downplaying their 0-6 preseason record. But opening with back-to-back home losses when the games count is a troubling sign for a title contender.
On Tuesday’s opener against the Golden State Warriors, LA squandered a 10-point third-quarter lead. The team collectively went ice cold, allowing the Warriors to go on a 47-30 run for the remainder of the game. Then on Friday, the Lakers entered the second quarter with a three-point lead and exited with a 13-point deficit. The gap then grew to 27 by the fourth before a dose of pity allowed LA to lose by a less humiliating 10 points. Although they did beat the Suns in fights amongst teammates, as Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard got into an altercation during the first half.
Through two games, LA has given up an average of 118 points while only scoring 109.5. The Westbrook acquisition hasn’t worked, as the former MVP has 23 points in two games to go with nine fouls, eight turnovers, and zero threes. And yet, head coach Frank Vogel isn’t worried.
“It says we want to be 2-0, and we’re not,” Vogel told The Athletic. “That’s all it says. We’ve got a good group of guys that like each other. The process is really strong, we got a good system on both sides of the ball, and we’re going have a hell of a season.”
Kendrick Nunn is now out for multiple weeks
Along with losses, injuries defined the Lakers’ preseason. One of the fallen players — third-year guard Kendrick Nunn — has been day-to-day with an ankle sprain. However, a new injury will keep Nunn from making his Purple and Gold debut until next month at the earliest.
In addition to the ankle sprain, the 26-year-old has dealt with nagging knee soreness. Upon further evaluation, LA’s medical staff discovered a bone bruise. As a result, Nunn will be re-evaluated in two to three weeks.
Nunn, who was a Rookie of the Year finalist with the Miami Heat in 2019-20, signed with the Lakers this offseason for two years and $10.25 million. As LA’s fifth-highest paid player, the 6-foot-2 guard was expected to receive a significant amount of playing time as one of the leading scorers off of the bench. Nunn averaged 15.0 points in 29.4 minutes a game with Miami.
The high-scoring guard now joins Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker on the long-term injury list. Ariza underwent ankle surgery in early October and will miss approximately two months. Meanwhile, THT suffered a torn ligament in his thumb and received surgery, sidelining him until sometime in December. Wayne Ellington, who along with Ariza was favored to start on opening night, also has an ailing hamstring and has yet to debut.
Can the Los Angeles Lakers turn things around?
One of the bright spots of LA’s gloomy start has been the duo of James and Davis. At 36 years old, King James is still averaging 29.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. AD, who missed half of last season with a string of injuries, is at 27.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks.
Aside from the All-Star duo, the Lakers need more from everyone else. Westbrook has failed to live up to high expectations. Carmelo Anthony had a nice 16-point outing against Phoenix but will need to show more consistency. As for everyone else? Only undrafted rookie Austin Reaves is averaging more than 6.5 points per game.
As far as bounce-back prospects go, LA’s schedule is about to become very favorable. 10 of its next 13 games are at home, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, and a pair against the Houston Rockets on the docket. In addition, the Lakers will only have to face three 2020-21 playoff teams during that stretch: the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, and Heat.
Still, long-term concerns about LA are legitimate. Until Nunn and some of the other reinforcements return, it will take a collective team effort to right the ship.