On a night when the Kansas City Chiefs pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, you’re forgiven if you weren’t paying attention to the Los Angeles Lakers — on a random Sunday night in January — nearly pulling off a desperate rally of their own.
Lucky for you, we’re here to keep you informed on the stuff that really matters, like the Lakers’ miserable season continuing to circle the drain after a 113-107 defeat in Miami. Down by 23 with just over nine minutes remaining in the game, and 16 with five minutes to go, the Lakers cut Miami’s lead to five on a LeBron James three-point play at the 2:09 mark.
But they never got any closer.
Now they’re back to under .500.
At 23-24, the Lakers, who’ve been hovering around the .500 line since before Christmas, sit in the Western Conference’s No. 8 spot, three games back in the loss column of the play-in line. As crazy as it sounds, they’re only four games in the loss column ahead of the lottery line.
LeBron did everything he could again, scoring 11 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter. He added 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals, though his 1-for-8 line from 3 didn’t help.
Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points, nine assists and nine rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting, but Carmelo Anthony was the only other Laker in double figures. Two starters, Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza, put up bagels.
There is not an easy win in there. If they get swept or even take a 1-3 over that stretch, will Frank Vogel still be the coach when they get home? I’m not sure I would bet on it.
Hopefully, for Vogel’s sake Anthony Davis, who is reportedly close to returning, can get back on the floor and make an immediate difference. Because right now, that is the ace up L.A.’s sleeve. You can’t hit full panic mode until AD is back, even if he was having kind of a ho-hum season before the injury. LeBron cannot possibly be asked to do anything more.
For the Lakers, they can talk themselves into the idea that they just need to get into the playoffs with a healthy LeBron and AD. But Vogel likely won’t have that much time if this doesn’t pick up soon. Like, real soon. Is Davis ready to hit the ground running like that?
Perhaps it will tell us how hard these guys want to play for Vogel. If they’re desperate for the guy to keep his job, Davis might come out blazing. But do you really get the impression this team is all that upset about the possibility of Vogel getting canned? I don’t. But I’m not in the locker room, so we’ll see if the Lakers can prove me wrong.
There’s also the possibility that the Lakers, even with Davis and LeBron healthy, just aren’t good enough. It’s actually a pretty strong possibility. Rob Pelinka made some bad decisions putting this team together, I think we can agree, and the Westbrook trade is at the top of the list.
But again, LeBron and AD together gives you some hope, however false it may prove to be. Vogel needs his second-best guy back ASAP. He needs to play him at center and dump the two-big lineups and bench Westbrook when he needs to and coach every game like it could be his last, because it very well could be.