The Los Angeles Lakers may be forced to operate without their fulcrum, LeBron James, for either a few more games or a few more months, depending who you ask. In his (and other key rotation pieces’) absence, the Lakers will need their current and former All-Stars to lead the charge, build good habits, and deliver (enough) wins.

On Monday at Staples Center, the Lakers’ prolific veterans did just that in a gusty 126-123 overtime win vs. the upstart Charlotte Hornets. The Lakers blew another double-digit lead and momentarily lost their poise, but they hung tight for a spiritually essential win.

The Lakers (5-5) had notable contributions — and shot-making — from role players, including Malik Monk and Austin Reaves.

But it was the wise elders who powered Los Angeles. Here’s how each accomplished vet helped fend off the youthful Hornets.

DeAndre Jordan

Jordan has been Public Enemy No. 1 amongst Lakers fans (Marc Gasol can relate).

Jordan has not looked like a rotation-caliber player for most of his time on the court (the on/off numbers and eye test are painful), and Frank Vogel’s injury-motivated decision to start him has drawn fair criticism.

On Monday, though, Jordan legitimately got the team rolling, scoring 10 of their first 15 points, including an alley-oop on the opening possession. He only played 11 minutes, but they were productive (8 rebounds, too.)


Rajon Rondo

Until he got ejected in the fourth quarter for a questionable flagrant-2 foul Miles Bridges, Rondo put forth, by far, his best minutes of the young season. The 35-year old — who was abysmal in recent appearances — completely sparked the offense in the second half.

Rondo entered for Russell Westbrook with 4:52 remaining in the 3rd quarter and the Lakers down 77-70. By the time he was tossed with 10:55 left in the 4th, the Lakers were up 95-87.

Rondo didn’t score, but his all-around impact was evident and his defense was contagious. He racked up 8 assists in 12 minutes, and palpably ignited the most exciting (and loudest) stretch of the evening.

Dwight Howard

Howard only played 15 minutes, but he was a major factor when out there — especially during the aforementioned 25-10 run. He grabbed nine rebounds, added a steal and a block, deterred other shots, and generally worked his tail off on both ends. He created a Melo transition 3 with his outstanding D (he was mobbed by the Lakers bench in the ensuing timeout.)

He backed up his words from Saturday.

Russell Westbrook

As usual, Russ’ performance was a unique cocktail of good, bad, and ugly.

Westbrook secured his second triple-double since joining the Lakers (17 points, 14 assists, 12 rebounds). He created tons of easy buckets for teammates — numerous lobs for AD and DJ — yet also neared his second quadruple-trouble of 2021-22 including turnovers (7).

He shot 5-of-15 from the field (0-of-2 from 3), though he reigned in his shot selection in the extra period.

After Rondo’s thrilling run, Westbrook immediately oversaw the Lakers’ third blown lead of 14 or more points of the season. He had five turnovers in the fourth quarter. When the going got tough, he (again) failed to keep his composure, picking up a technical foul during an odd dead-ball stoppage in which the Lakers were called for two Ts and a delay-of-game violation, leading to five huge points for the Hornets with the clock halted.

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Westbrook had seven big rebounds in the 4th and arguably got away with a loose-ball foul chasing an eight that could have sent Charlotte to the line for game-winning free throws.

If you’re wondering why every Lakers’ game seemingly has to be a nail-biting stress test: welcome to the Russ Experience.

Anthony Davis

The “Davis is Soft” detractors are quiet tonight.

Already nursing a sprained thumb and ankle soreness, AD had his own Flu Game.

Davis was forced to leave the Lakers’ concerning effort vs. the Portland Trail Blazers in the first quarter with an ugly stomach illness. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten over the bug by Monday.

After his ultra-rare 32-point (13-25 FG), 12-rebound, 4-assist, 3-steal, and 5-block performance vs. Charlotte, Davis told reporters he vomited before the fourth quarter.

“He can do everything,” Westbrook said. “He’s a team guy, which is something you want. He’s defending, rebounding, scoring … Regardless of things that are bothering him, he cares about the team first.”

“I didn’t know he threw up, but for him to do that and come back and help us win this game, that says a lot about him,” Melo said. “I know he’s not soft and I know he’s tough and that if he can be out there, he’s gonna play.”

Now, Davis needs to either fix that jumper (3-of-21 from 3 in 2021-22) or stop taking them altogether, especially in crucial moments.

Carmelo Anthony

Speaking of timely jumpers: The legend of Staples Melo grows.

Anthony remained red-hot from distance in a Lakers home game. Carmelo dropped 29 points and splashed home seven more triples— sending the crowd to 2000-Game-7-in-Portland decibel levels with each one (it truly is a sight to behold).

“Anytime he shoots the ball I think it’s going in,” AD said.

Here are his home and road splits this season:

  • Home: 31-of-49 from 3 (63.3%), 19.4 PPG
  • Road: 1-of-16 from 3 (6.3%), 9.7 PPG.

Vogel cracked that the crowd-fueled shot of adrenaline that accompanies Melo is forcing him to keep the Sixth Man of the Year candidate out of the starting lineup.

“The energy we get when he checks in is something I don’t want to mess with.”

Anthony didn’t seem to buy that, though said he’s comfortable thriving in any role.

It’s not just the shooting, either. Vogel praised his defensive communication skills in pre-game (as we did on our recent episode of Lakers Multiverse).

Davis cited his intangibles. “He’s a great scorer, great mentor for guys. Leadership. He’s savvy, he’s a vet, he knows the game. He brings so much to a team. … Melo is in my ear a lot about leading the team.”

Staples Melo is real, and he’s spectacular.

Next goal for the Lakers: winning a game without LeBron in regulation. Their next opponent, the Miami Heat, won’t make it easy.