They’re going to be juuust fine.
The last time the Lakers embarked on a worrisome four-game losing streak was December of 2019, in which they responded by nine straight games. Coincidentally, said winning streak began against the Portland Trail Blazers, whom they defeated last night in one of their best defensive performances of the 2020-21 season.
The concern going in was how the Lakers lost four straight, which came shortly after Anthony Davis’ Achilles injury. The Lakers only dropped 98 points against the defensively challenged Brooklyn Nets, losing by 11. Two nights later, the now surging (red hot is too e-z) Miami Heat gutted out a 1990s style 96-94 victory. That was followed by an overtime loss to the Washington Wizards, who have now won 6-of-7 for the first time in three seasons. And then the big one: A 114-89 ass-whoopin’ at the hands of the Utah Jazz, the NBA’s best regular-season team (for now).
If last night wasn’t a must-win for the Lakers, it was close, if not for the sole reason that Davis isn’t expected to return for at least a couple of more weeks. The Lakers had to prove they could tread water without The Brow and did so by holding the NBA’s 10th highest-scoring offense to over 20 points below their average. Getting Dennis Schröder back from COVID protocol helped immensely, but it mostly signals that the Lakers — even without Davis — have another gear they could summon defensively that other NBA contenders still have to prove when it matters.
The Lakers allowed Damian Lillard to go off for 35 points, but not only did he have to work tirelessly (24 field goal attempts) to net what was a game-high tally, but the Lakers only allowed one other Trail Blazer to accumulate over 11 points: Gary Trent Jr, who netted 19 on just 8-of-20 shooting (including 2-for-11 from three). Without Lillard’s 11-for-24, the Blazers shot 21-for-59 and were under pressure on what felt like every possession.
Never mind that LeBron James ended the night with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists, but his 83 defensive rating was a catalyst in the Laker victory, and he also recorded four steals and three blocks. Offensively, the team didn’t receive sizeable contributions from anyone outside of James, Schröder’s 22 points, and Montrezl Harrell’s 17-point, nine-rebound effort off the bench, but if they’re locked in defensively, that’s all they’d need to lead the way.
Maybe even part of the motivation for the Lakers arrived shortly before game-time when A.C. Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimović, who played with the L.A. Galaxy from 2018-19, criticized James for essentially being a political activist and an advocate for change in America. Ibrahimović said in an interview with UEFA for Discovery+ on Thursday that James is “phenomenal,” but doesn’t need to do sports and politics simultaneously.
“Do what you’re good at,” Ibrahimović said, as if he were giving advice. “Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football. I don’t do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
James not only responded with his performance, but he also addressed Ibrahimović after the game, saying he won’t shut up and dribble:
“I will never shut up about things that are wrong. I preach about my people, and I preach about equality, social justice, racism, voter suppression; things that go on in our community. I’ll use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that’s going on around this country and around the world. There’s no way I would ever just stick to sports because I understand how powerful this platform and my voice is.”
And, because the internet will always find out, here’s a clip of Ibrahimović crediting Muhammad Ali for being a role model for what he did inside and outside of boxing. It’s the typical revisionist history people do with Ali (and Martin Luther King Jr and Roberto Clemente, etc), who wasn’t nearly as beloved in his time as he became in hindsight.