The Los Angeles Lakers are like a TV drama that makes things that so many people might aspire to or dream about seem utterly miserable.
Who wants to be part of a family worth billions after watching Succession? Who wants to be famous after watching The Morning Show? Who wants to play for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises after watching the Lakers?
That’s what it’s come to.
When LeBron James manoeuvred his way to Los Angeles prior to the 2018-19 season, it seemed like he had found the perfect place to play out his unfathomable career. The milestones were laid out in orderly fashion: team with a younger superstar (Anthony Davis) to add multiple titles to add to his collection; break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record and retire — eventually — as a Lakers legend with a statue out front all the while expanding his brand and his fortune in the heart of Hollywood.
Well, not quite. The championship James won with Davis in the bubble in 2020 stands as a James high point — and nothing wrong with that. But it’s the only time the Lakers have made it out of the first round since he moved to Brentwood, and this season is setting up to be a new low point as they struggle to avoid missing the play-in tournament.
The got embarrassed at home again on Monday night as the no-name — sorry, but those are the facts — Toronto Raptors showed up and did what they always do to the Lakers: kick butt and enjoy some downtime in the sunshine after a well-earned 114-103 win.
Pascal Siakam led the Raptors with 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, scoring more than 20 points for a personal-best seventh straight game. Rookie Scottie Barnes was exceptional in his first game against James and the Lakers as he notched 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
All five Raptors starters finished in double figures.
The game was effectively over minutes after it started. Toronto raced out of the gates to a 21-2 lead with Barnes scoring 10 points on his first five shots, including a turnaround in James’ chest that will go on the rookie’s highlight reel.
`”It was a great, great start,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse told reporters. “And then it was kind of weird from there, but it was good to get off to a good start like that.”
The Raptors missed chances to completely knock the Lakers out after that. Toronto hit just one of their first 10 three-pointers in the second quarter when a couple of more threes might have completely sapped the Lakers’ will. Los Angeles kept Toronto in touch for the most part, trailing 58-40 at half. Toronto pushed its lead to 27 as Gary Trent Jr. exploded for 15 of his team-high 28 points in the third.
The Lakers cut the Raptors’ lead to 20 to start the fourth and a pair of hoops by James cut the visitors’ lead to 15 with 6:17 to play, but a long two by Fred VanVleet and a tough finish in the lane by Trent Jr. pushed Toronto’s lead back to 19. They needed the breathing room — a 20-10 Lakers run cut the Raptors’ lead to 11 with 3:20 to play but Barnes broke the L.A. pressure and made a perfect lob to Precious Achiuwa to calm things.
It wasn’t pretty — Toronto shot just 40 per cent from the floor and 27 per cent from three — but the Raptors held the Lakers to 39 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively.
The win was the Raptors’ fourth straight and improved their record to 38-30 as they remain a game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for sixth place in the East — the last spot to avoid the play-in. The Raptors also surpassed the pre-season over-under for wins set for them by most oddsmakers.
James finished with 30 points and nine rebounds, but the Lakers lost for the 12th time in 15 games to fall to 29-39. They’re in ninth place in the West, a game ahead of 10th-place New Orleans.
They’ve missed Davis — he’s been out for 30 games so far this season with injuries — but it’s been a season-long rut for the NBA’s glamour franchise.
The Lakers could take a lesson from the Raptors, honestly. Toronto’s had their issues, but what the Raptors lack in star power, they make up for in resilience and belief. Not staying in a rut is the Raptors’ best skill.
“It’s the nature of this league,” said Nurse. “… I’ll give you the most obvious answer in the world here but you don’t start doing cartwheels after big wins and you don’t get too down in the dumps after a bit loss, man.
“Get back to work, learn what you can learn and you try to get to a level where you’re ready to compete. ….
“I think everybody in almost every profession or industry, or whatever’s been thrown into a lot of funks lately. All of us have in everything so guess you got your choice, whether you’re going to fight your way out of it or not.”
The Raptors make the right choice over and over again.
Toronto arrived at Crypto.com arena having — once again — pulled its season off the guard rails and back into the fast lane with a three-game winning streak and a chance to turn what looked like a potentially season-bending six-game road trip into a launch pad for a playoff push.
And the Raptors love nothing better than playing in Los Angeles — and against the Lakers in particular. They’ve never lost to James in L.A. and have won six straight in the building formerly known as Staples Center. The last time they lost was Nov. 30th, 2014.
“We like the sunshine. We play good out here,” said Nurse. “… I don’t know, I think I mentioned this a lot of times, during the year there seems to be some certain places where we really go play. …. Our guys get loosened up with that sunshine and they come out and play.
The Lakers, meanwhile, were at a low point in what has been a Death Valley type of season, having lost by 29 to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night after giving up a franchise record 48 points in the first quarter.
It might have been a bridge too far.
“There’s just too many too many times where we just get into big deficits,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “It takes its toll on your individual psyche and the psyche of your group and you’re constantly trying to push your guys to be better and coach them hard but also trying to keep them lifted. You know what I mean? Because, you know, it definitely takes its toll on your psyche …”
In contrast, the Raptors keep plugging. After a 2-5 start following the All-Star break, the Raptors have bounced back.
It’s been that way all season. They started 1-3, and then went for five straight wins. They went 8-14 during an injury-plagued stretch in November and December and started the New Year on a six-game winning streak and after a 3-6 stretch pulled them back to .500, Toronto played eight games in 13 days and won all of them.
The Lakers live in the heartbeat of the land of milk-and-honey, where stars come to shine.
But it hasn’t worked out for King James in Lotus Land so far. The Raptors are no one’s definition of NBA royalty, but they win. Especially over James and the Lakers.