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Lakers squander LeBron James greatness and Christmas loss is another callback

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Christmas has long been the highlight of the NBA regular season. The fixture list features the league’s best teams and the brightest stars and franchises.

The Christmas slate is also one of the biggest storytellers of the year. And those who listened to the Lakers in their 124-115 loss to Mavericks in Dallas on Sunday witnessed a tragic reminder of how James’ Hall of Fame career seemed to end in Los Angeles.

James scored 38 points (on 13-for-23 shooting) against Dallas, one shy of his season high against the Spurs in Nov. 26, adding six rebounds and five assists in his record-breaking 17th Christmas Day game. When he checked at 2:32 of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were plus-2 in the 34 minutes he played and minus-18 in the 12 minutes he sat.

Individual plus-minuses don’t always reflect the story of a match, but in this case, they did.

Without Anthony Davis, who is out indefinitely with a stress injury in his right foot, the Lakers just don’t have much luck when James is on the floor. They’ve lost four straight — allowing at least 124 points in each loss — and are 1-4 since Davis’ injury, falling to 13-20 overall and 13th in the West.

The final scoreline was not indicative of how close the game was for much of the second half. And with four more games to play on their five-game road trip, they risk falling further down the standings.

When asked if he thinks the Lakers are resilient enough to get out of their predicament, James offers a frankly candid assessment.

“I think I see it that way,” James said. “I’m looking at it from the other side too, like, how many times are you going to try to dig yourself in until it’s too much dirt on you?”

James, who has expressed roster concerns at times throughout the season, has become increasingly critical in recent post-game sessions since Davis’ injury.

“The reality is that without AD we lose a lot of length, which we don’t already have,” James said. So we have to catch up in a way that without AD is very difficult, very difficult. So I think at one point we had a range of I think (austin reeves) was the tallest guy on the court. So you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.

James was blunt about the team’s lack of shooting and size. There have also been subtle knocks to the team’s collective talent. The subtext of his messaging, of course, is that the Lakers roster could benefit from a much-needed front office upgrade via a trade (or two). And it’s hard to disagree with James’ judgment or his application of pressure.

After a slow start, James is surely doing his part, scoring 30+ goals in seven straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA.

He continues to break and set records with unprecedented longevity. Among many notable examples to choose from this season, he has already passed Magic Johnson in career assists and will likely overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time goalscoring list over the next month and a half.

But James’ 20th season, like his 19th, is essentially wasted on a Lakers team seemingly tied to the lottery. There have been glimmers of optimism, but like last season, the team has vastly underperformed expectations set out in the first two seasons of the James-Davis partnership.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who tends to have the glass half full in most cases, acknowledges the “difficult circumstances” that James, in particular, faces amid the team’s struggles.

“Phenomenal,” Ham said of James’ play. I take my hat off to him. He competed his ass. It’s tough times right now, tough circumstances. But at the end of the day, you know, we just have to keep moving forward. He is the perfect example. Just his ability to go out game after game after game and put on the type of performances that he puts on, really trying to coach and teach the guys being on the court, playing with them . Brainstorming our way. Get coached.

“A lot of guys in this position, not everyone gets coached. I take my hat off to him. His leadership has been demonstrated.

The game started off encouragingly for the Lakers. They doubled Luka Doncic, limiting his offensive production and forcing the rest of the Mavericks to try and beat them. The Dallas shooters opened up look after open look, bombarding several of them. The Lakers played with fire and got away with it. They led 54-43, rotating quite well and grouping the Mavericks offense, for the most part.

But the third quarter, which was the Lakers’ worst quarter this season, was marked by a volcanic eruption of historic proportions. Dallas scored 51 points, the highest Christmas quarterback in NBA history and the league’s best mark this season.

Dončić (32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) kept them off the post, Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 of his 26 points in the quarter) drilled several 3s and christian wood (30 points, seven assists, a career high) He dominated the paint as a roller passer and offensive rebounder. Dallas made nine of 13 3s in the quarter, shooting 72% overall.

The Lakers have crumbled because they often have second halves and critical moments this season. In 12 minutes, they went from 11 points to 19.

“They countered what we were doing at halftime,” James said. “We didn’t make the right adjustments once they made theirs.”

Part of the remarkable run stemmed from Dončić’s brilliance and the impossible problems he contorted a defense into. The Mavericks loaded up their shooting list to complement Dončić’s style of play.

“If you see the same cover over and over and over again, at some point you will understand when you have a high basketball IQ which Luka obviously has,” said James, who referred to the lack of multiple adjustments of the team in the second half. . time.

But a big part of the Mavericks’ success also comes from the fact that the Lakers’ supporting cast is largely unreliable – and there aren’t many players Ham trusts who are taller than 6ft5. inches.

Ham continues to deploy the 6-foot-1 Patrick Beverly alongside the 6 foot 1 Dennis Schroder as a starting backcourt, a combination that just didn’t work. The Lakers are already undersized, but Ham tends to favor their smaller players in an attempt to stop the bleeding, even if it results in too many offensive rebounds and easy points in the paint.

One of those extremes was when Ham used Westbrook (6ft 3in) at center, with Reaves (6ft 5in), Lonnie Walker IV (6 feet 4 inches), Schröder and Beverley. This is probably the smallest formation a team has used this season. The group went -1 in about two minutes in the fourth quarter.

“You throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” Ham said. This is one of those types of situations. AD is not there, not in the programming. We’re not going to start using that as an excuse. Hell yeah, that’s a big hole in our programming. But now we are pros. We must step up our efforts.

Whatever the circumstances, Ham retained a confident exterior. For him, there is always something more the coaching staff or the players can do to make things right.

But James seems eager to wear himself out as the clock ticks down on his legendary battle with Father Time.

This season, James is averaging 27.8 points — 0.4 more than Davis — on 49.6 percent shooting, along with 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He does it in 36.1 minutes per game – tied for 14th in the league. For reference, Kobe Bryant averaged 28.2 minutes per game in his 20th season. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 22.9 minutes in his 20th. Vince Carter has averaged 17.7 minutes in his career.

Basically, James is in unprecedented territory not only with his production but also with his workload.

It’s hard to bet against James with the way he challenged an aging traditional athlete, but at some point the toll will inevitably affect him. If Davis misses several more weeks, the increased burden that will be needed to weather his absence is too much to place on James, who turns 38 on December 1. 30. There simply isn’t another star player or great fit for Ham to look to.

Reinforcements via trade would obviously help, and the Lakers are still weighing their options in a dormant trade market. At the same time, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify trading a first-round pick if the group continues to struggle. The front office does not want to compound its previous mistakes with more winning moves now.

There are many slices of the blame pie to share. Among them, James obviously bears some of the blame for some of the roster building given his notable contribution – such as trade support Westbrook – he’s had over the past few seasons.

It’s just hard to watch one of the greatest players in the game, with so much greatness still in the tank, come out with a groan instead of a bang.

“At the end of the day, I love playing basketball,” James said of how this year has been for him. “I always love going out there and playing in front of fans whether it’s at home or on the road. And I just try to control what I can control.

“I show up, I try to lead these guys and I try to lead to wins and obviously there have been times where it’s been frustrating. There were times when I was happy. There were times when I was like, “OK, we can do better here,” or whatever. But I always try to stay balanced.

(Photo of james lebron(: Jerome Miron/USA Today)

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