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4 takeaways from the Lakers’ LeBron-less win vs Spurs

Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Frank Vogel, Rajon Rondo, Lakers

Amid the absence of LeBron James who sat out to rest his ankle, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to snag an overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. We can say that a win, no matter through what means, is still a win. However, the Lakers, being considered one of the elites this season, cannot just give themselves a pat on the back after a victory. Obvious mistakes were made throughout the course of the game. As such, the proper attitude would be through parsing the entire game and what lessons the team can learn.

Lingering questions on Russell Westbrook’s fit

Without LeBron James, Russell Westbrook was able to play his own brand of basketball. He was orchestrating plays, driving strongly to the hoop, creating for himself, running the break, or basically everything we’re used to seeing. He logged in 33 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists for the Lakers — Westbrook’s usual stat line. This is also the first time he shot at least 50 percent from the field (55.6 percent). We can view Westbrook’s stellar performance as his response to fill in the void left by James’ absence. And he certainly did answer the call.

However, we can also view this from another perspective. Is it really ideal to have both Westbrook and James on the floor at the same time? In the games when James was on the floor, spacing was a big issue. Westbrook isn’t a threat from deep and defenders just sag off him. Against the Spurs, the Lakers’ spacing was much better because it was Westbrook handling the ball. He’s much a bigger threat as he’s always looking to drive to the hoop with relentless aggression.

This isn’t to say that Westbrook should have the ball in his hands most of the time. He has his own fair share of troubles. Westbrook can still be out of control at times and is vulnerable to committing senseless turnovers. James is simply better at reading the defense and running the proper offense to counter it. As it stands, it’s a tricky situation to solve. From the looks of it, this will be the major concern Frank Vogel’s crew would have to address as the season progresses.

Westbrook-Rondo duo is a recipe for disaster

There were a few instances in the game where both Westbrook and Rondo were on the floor. At face value, it seemed the perfect guard combo to field. Both are future Hall of Famers and great playmakers. However, their presence was nothing short of a disaster for the Lakers. There was even a stretch when the Spurs went on a 12-4 run against the Westbrook-Rondo duo. Lakers fans over at Twitter were in a rage whenever the two guards were on the floor at the same time. This problem has similarities with the James-Russ duo. The difference is that this one can easily be fixed. Perhaps a good idea would be for Vogel to strictly use Rondo as leader of the second unit.

Anthony Davis is the real MVP

Anthony Davis was somehow overshadowed by the Lakers’ signings of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard. Against the Spurs, Davis reminded everyone why he’s the second-best player donning the Purple and Gold. He chipped in 35 points, 17 rebounds, and four assists. He was aggressive on both ends of the floor. Perhaps his best contribution was his offensive rebounding, especially those put-back layups, most off Westbrook misses. He also recorded four blocks which once again raises the question of why he hasn’t been crowned Defensive Player of the Year. Apart from padding the stat sheet, Davis told Westbrook numerous times to slow down. This reminds us of Davis’ understanding of the game. He isn’t just your big man who does big man work. He’s one of the team’s leaders as he has immense knowledge of the game’s rhythms.

Problems on defense

Frank Vogel is known to be a defensive-minded coach. This was the main reason why the Lakers won the title in 2020, proving the adage that defense wins championships. However, against the Spurs on Tuesday, this defensive tenacity was nowhere in sight. There were tons of botched coverages which led to wide-open or lightly contested shots. In transition, the Spurs were able to log in 29 fastbreak points.

From the first four games, it’s crystal clear that the Lakers’ defense needs some work. Last year, even amid the injuries, LA was the best defensive team with a 106.8 rating. Now, they rank 22nd. Obviously, it’s too early in the season so fans should not panic. After all, the players have a ton of new players on their roster. Each player will need more games and practice sessions to get used to Vogel’s defensive principles.