Anthony on LA: The Lakers record is impressive but there’s still room for improvement

This NBA season has been full of outstanding performances and eye-catching headlines almost every night. 

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has been flat out dominant. He’s been averaging 29.6 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game on 54% shooting from the field — an absolutely absurd number for the big man who’s preached “trusting the process.”

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has been crafty on the court, averaging nearly a triple-double with 26.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg and 8.7 assists per game. If you thought Embiid was balling for a big man, earlier this month Jokic became the first center since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to drop 50 points and 10 assists in a game. 

The NBA is wild once again. 

But nothing flipped the entire league on its head more than a trade in January. Roughly a month into the season, the Houston Rockets traded superstar guard James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets forming a trio with fellow ballers Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. 

As a Lakers fan, I was scared, to say the least. My beloved team had just won their first title in ten years in the bubble and will now have to go through a unicorn of an offensive lineup in order to repeat. 

With enough time, however, it became clear that not even this Nets team could defend against a varsity team. 

They gave up 149 points against the Washington Wizards, 147 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and 122 to the Detroit Pistons. These three teams now all have two things in common — they beat the Nets and have records below .500.

Unfortunately, the Lakers have not really looked up to par, and the Nets are their biggest threat.

A record of 22-7 is pretty impressive on paper. Especially considering they had a mere 71 days, the shortest offseason in sports history, to celebrate their championship, assemble a new cast and tip-off a new season. 

At times, they’ve really flexed their muscles, handling top Eastern Conference contenders such as the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics on the road. 

LeBron James is still defying father time, playing like he’s 26 and not 36. The emergence of Kyle Kuzma as a role player and hustler is amazing to see. Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroeder have also been as good as advertised. 

The question coming into the season was how their rim protection and defense would fare after losing key shot-blockers Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Consider that question answered, as the Lakers allow the second-fewest points a game and are currently tied with the Indiana Pacers for the most blocks per game.

It’s been a pretty seamless transition into the new season. 

However, there have been some bumps in the road. What their record does not make apparent are some lethargic performances against sub-par teams. 

Against the Golden State Warriors at home, the Lakers were up 16 at halftime but ended up losing the game after a collapse in the second half. Against the 76ers, Los Angeles needed a 13-0 run in the final minutes just to take a one-point lead, but not before 76ers forward Tobias Harris hit the game-winner, saving the day for Philadelphia. And against the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers were flat out awful, looking tired on the back end of a back to back, losing by 15 to a team with only four wins at the time. 

After losing back to back games, the Lakers turned it on and were on a seven-game winning streak. However, three straight wins went into overtime — once against the Pistons and twice against the Oklahoma City Thunder — two teams at the bottom of the standings in their conferences.

Slow starts, inconsistent play and sloppy efforts against lesser opponents have led to LeBron James carrying them at times. The Lakers’ performances lately have not been reminiscent of a team with the second-best record in the NBA. They have to handle the far superior teams they face, just like champions do, and save their energy for the tougher battles.

Outside of LeBron, the help has been limited to players like Schroeder, Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma. 

Forward Anthony Davis has been nonexistent at times. 

Sure, Davis is an all-world talent and can take over games, but his play has been indifferent from Harris. Unlike LeBron, who has come out flying, Davis still looks hungover from all the champagne he drank during the offseason. 

The forward is averaging almost 23 points a game this season, but really hasn’t been dominant. Outside of a 37-point performance against his hometown Chicago Bulls, the brow has been quiet. With 27 games in the season, the generational talent has only played like a common one. 

All things considered, he’s my biggest concern with this Lakers team — can they find a way to get Davis in rhythm?

An Achilles scare against the Denver Nuggets this week surely will not help. The injury, described as “Achilles tendinosis,” will put Davis out for at least the next 2-3 weeks — a manageable nightmare scenario for the defending champs.

When the time comes around for his return in the playoffs in May, Davis will hopefully be ready. 
Obviously, Davis has been doubled by defenses consistently, and that ultimately cuts his performance short. All I’m asking for is a little more aggression, a little more fire and a little more passion that will raise our eyebrows. 

Anthony Gharib is a sophomore writing about Los Angeles professional sports. He is also the deputy sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column, “Anthony on LA,” runs every other Wednesday.