The Los Angeles Lakers are used to being the center of attention. As a team with a long history of superstars playing in a massive media market, fans across the nation can bank on many opportunities to catch the Lakers on their television screens. Even when the team is struggling, the Purple and Gold are a staple of primetime viewing.
This season, the trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook has earned LA a steady collection of nationally-televised games. But without warning, the Lakers were hit with a harsh dose of reality proving they’re no longer must-see TV.
ESPN is flexing out the Lakers-Clippers game
Friday night’s ESPN broadcast featured the Lakers and Clippers squaring off in a battle for LA. But only Southern California residents will get to enjoy the game from the comfort of their homes.
A little over 24 hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. PST tip-off, ESPN decided to remove the Lakers-Clippers matchup from their national broadcast schedule. Instead, the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors will play on the Worldwide Leader three days after going head-to-head in a thrilling game on TNT.
It’s hard to argue with ESPN’s decision to take on the Suns and Warriors game instead. Entering Thursday, both teams sit atop the Western Conference with an 18-3 record. Meanwhile, the Lakers and Clippers sit at just 12-11 and 11-11, respectively.
The Los Angeles Lakers lack the national appeal they’re used to
Even with the Suns and Warriors having sensational seasons, a good Lakers team wouldn’t have been moved out of the programming schedule. But replacing them shows how the NBA’s most popular franchise isn’t as compelling as they were expected to be.
At 12-11, LA has been spectacularly average. The offense has failed to garner any consistency, sitting just 23rd in offensive rating. The defensive rating, while improved from several weeks ago, is just 15th. In other words, LA is a far cry away from its title team on 2019-20.
It also doesn’t help that LeBron James has missed so much time, either. The King has only suited up in 11 of LA’s 23 games. Now, the number of missed games will only grow after James tested positive for COVID-19, keeping him out for Friday’s contest against the Clippers.
A mediocre team missing its biggest draw doesn’t exactly scream “ratings bonanza”. Even when big names like Westbrook and Davis are patrolling the court for the 17-time champions.
It won’t take much for the Lakers to become must-see TV again
ESPN may have humbled the Lakers by opting for another game. But it won’t be long before the Purple and Gold invade national TV broadcasts once again.
Obviously, LeBron’s eventual return will give basketball fans more reason to tune in. Love him or hate him, King James captivates audiences wherever he goes. Once he joins his fellow stars along with popular veterans like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, ESPN and TNT won’t ever think about swapping them out for someone else.
Of course, winning will also go a long way. LA has largely hovered around .500 for the duration of the season, never winning or losing more than three games in a row. If LeBron comes back and stays healthy, Davis does his thing, and Westbrook shows his improvements aren’t temporary, the Lakers are back in business.
But even if the Lakers continue to tread water, they’ll still have a plethora of opportunities to showcase themselves to a national audience. Between now and Christmas, LA is still scheduled for five games on either ESPN or TNT.
Still, the sting of getting kicked off of a Friday night broadcast should serve as motivation for the middling Lakers moving forward.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.