The Los Angeles Lakers got their first taste of a December humble pie after a 14-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, something that could repeat itself after the wave of softball games to start the season has come to an end.
If LeBron James’ emphatic halftime words to his teammates were any indication, the Lakers will have to do more than coast at the ribs of James and Anthony Davis to keep up their league-leading mark after a 17-3 start.
While winning 85% of their games is a strong feat regardless of the opponents, the Lakers have only played six of their opening 20 games against teams over the .500 mark.
Their record? A measly 3-3.
Los Angeles has sparked seven and 10-game win streaks this season, but lost in the season-opener against the hallway rival Los Angeles Clippers, the Toronto Raptors, and most recently the Mavericks after surviving in an overtime thriller earlier this season. Dallas’ win was no fluke, forcing 17 turnovers and limiting every Laker not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis to 41.3% shooting for the game.
The Lakers will now get a taste of life on the road, playing nine of their next 13 December games away from home, including facing the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and the Portland Trail Blazers in the upcoming three-game road trip.
James and company will play eight of their next nine games on the road, something that will test this team’s mettle for the first time this season. Their record after that stretch will help better reflect just how good or not-so-good the Lakers could be this season, balancing some sense of adversity with a pancake-soft early-season schedule.
Things won’t get easy at home either, as every opponent the Lakers will face at Staples Center is currently in the playoff picture, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, and Mavericks again to close out the calendar year.
Finding that third player to take a lead-support role has been the Lakers’ biggest problem, as manifested in Los Angeles’ most recent loss. James and Davis combined for 52 points on 41 shots, which accounted for 47% of the total attempted by the team. Any more than that and the Lakers became way too dependent on their dynamic duo, making them highly predictable for a wave of Western Conference teams looking to take their shot at the throne.
Kyle Kuzma was poised to be the power play coming from the bench, but his frail 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds are hardly an indication of that promise coming to fruition.
The Lakers surrounded themselves with plenty of complementary pieces to surround Davis, and most importantly James, with the right cast to suit their abilities — but in nights when they fall flat, the Lakers have no Plan B to salvage a win — something that teams could exploit through one noteworthy month of December.