Top Takeaways from Lakers' Loss vs. Donovan Michell, Jazz with LeBron James Out
It was clear pretty early the undermanned Lakers weren't going to put up a ton of resistance.
While they avoided being blown out, they were down as many as 18 points and trailed for the entirety of what eventually became a 122-109 loss to a Jazz team that carried a five-game losing streak into the contest. L.A. never found an answer for Utah's backcourt combo of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, who combined to score 47 points on 18-of-31 shooting (8-of-16 from range).
Russell Westbrook led the Lakers with 24 points and seven assists. Dwight Howard double-doubled with 21 points and 12 rebounds and even splashed a three-ball from the corner. Collectively, though, L.A. never found the offensive gear it needed to hit, going a combined 7-of-25 from long range and getting outscored 14-2 in transition.
The Play-In Tournament Might Not Happen for L.A.
Whether because of the name on the front of the jerseys or a few that are on the backs, the Lakers still feel like a team opponents wouldn't want to face in the first round.
It's far more likely, though, that L.A. never reaches that point. It can't climb higher than the ninth seed and would need to leapfrog two teams to get there. So, in a best-case scenario, the Lakers would need to escape a pair of literally-must-win games at the Play-In Tournament.
The odds, though, don't like the Lakers even getting that far. While they have an identical record as the ninth-seeded San Antonio Spurs, they'd lose a tiebreaker to them with a worse conference record. That's a big edge for San Antonio and a big reason why Basketball-Reference.com gives L.A. a 76.9-percent chance of missing the Play-In Tournament entirely.
For the record, there are zero silver linings if things keep going south for the Lakers, who are tied with the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder for the league's second-worst record since the All-Star break (4-14). L.A. can't keep its first-round pick regardless where it lands, as a top-10 selection would head to the New Orleans Pelicans and anything beyond that would go to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Only the Stars Can Save This Squad
History won't fault the Lakers for betting big on stars.
It will, however, question the collection this front office assembled.
Either way, L.A. allowed itself to be top-heavy and hoped that its elite talent could overcome any soft spots on the back end of the roster. That hasn't really happened, although injuries haven't given it a real shot to do it yet.
James and Davis have played 21 games together, per NBA.com. Those two have suited up with Westbrook 20 times. The Lakers haven't been great with either combination, but each group sits above .500 (11-10 with James and Davis; 11-9 with all three).
If L.A. salvages anything from this season, its stars will be the key. Davis and James both hope to return Friday for a critical contest against the ninth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and their ability to hit the ground running will determine where the Lakers go from here.