After losing in the first round of the playoffs in the summer of 2021, the Los Angeles Lakers aimed high in the offseason, most notably bringing in Russell Westbrook to join fellow All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. As the season dawned, many pundits suggested that the Lakers had the power to return to the top of the Western Conference and win back the NBA Championship they had last won in 2020.
The bookies agreed, and the Lakers were among the favorites for honors as the season began. Even after a slow start in the fall, they were still a popular choice among NBA sportsbooks. Going into the New Year, they were around .500, disappointing but not a disaster.
Here are five moments that go some way to defining the Lakers in 2022:
LeBron at a Loss for Words
February 9, 2022. The Lakers lost 107-105 to the Portland Trailblazers to go to 26-30. The Trailblazers would eventually finish 13 out of 15 in the Western Conference, and to add insult to injury, the Portland lineup that beat the Lakers that day wasn’t even at full strength.
‘This is the lowest point of any season I’ve seen as a Laker over the years. I don’t have any words for it because we’ve used all our words.’ -LeBron James
The Lakers’ shooting was okay, but defensively, they were abysmal. They gave up 11 rebounds and 21 turnovers and would finish with the second-worst turnover record in the Western Conference’s regular season. At this point, it had become evident that the team was struggling even to make the play-in game, and the franchise had been desperately trying to do some deals to boost the roster, but with no cap space to work with, there were very few options.
Russell ‘No Expectations’ Westbrook
March 3, 2022. The Lakers had crushed 132-111 Clippers, and the leading players had to face up to the media once again. But even allowing for the troublesome circumstances, Russell Westbrook’s performance at the postgame press conference was embarrassing.
Asked how he was coping with the fact that the season was not working out as he had envisioned, Westbrook said that he had no expectations coming to the Lakers, just as he had had no expectations at any of his three previous teams. Those teams, however, were Oklahoma, Houston, and Washington. This was the Lakers, and he was playing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Westbrook – already having the worst season of his career – was a one-man, bad PR machine throughout, but this was a low point.
Two nights after the Clippers shellacked them, the Lakers delivered an incredible 126-112 win over the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, in which LeBron James led a fightback that overcame a 14-point deficit while recording one of his biggest ever points hauls.
James scored 56 points, added ten rebounds, and was miles out in front of everyone else. Westbrook managed an okay 20, but Anthony Davis was absent through injury, underlining how much of a one-man show the Lakers still were. LeBron finished the season with the highest points per game average he had recorded since 2006, but it made no difference, and the Lakers went home at the end of the regular season.
Two points, three rebounds, four assists, and five steals. That was the total of Russell Westbrook’s contribution to yet another loss to the Clippers on October 20, 2022. He also finished with zero points from 11 field goal attempts. Asked how he would characterize his performance after the game, Westbrook described it as ‘solid,’ perhaps not the s-word that Lakers’ fans were looking for.
To be fair to Westbrook, he started the 2022-23 season in better form, being utilized as a bench player by new head coach Darvin Ham, but this was a less-than-spectacular return on yet another night when Russ – supposedly the final piece of the championship jigsaw puzzle – didn’t turn up.
They Shoot and Fail to Score
October 23, 2022. The Lakers lost 106-104 to Portland, their third straight loss to start the new season, but this game was most notable for their lamentable 18.2% shooting from three-point range.
To put this in context, ESPN came up with an astonishing stat. Trawling back through NBA history, their analysts found more than 6,100 instances of an NBA team taking 100 three-point shots over a three-game stretch. The Lakers, it turned out, had the second-worst success rate out of that entire sample.