Nikola Jokic is the name any true basketball fan should be talking about after the reigning back-to-back NBA MVP went off for 31 points in a Denver Nuggets 110-99 victory against the winless Los Angeles Lakers. But that “winless Los Angeles Lakers” phrase means basketball fans also have to talk about that.
About how this team built around late-stage LeBron James can’t seem to gel, and why? The Lakers bring their own dramatic Hollywood story arc to everything and so talk about we must, even though… Jokic.
It’s been easy for Lakers fans — and haters — to point to the presence and less-than-stellar shooting of Russell Westbrook for the troubles. Westbrook is widely acknowledged to be a bad fit with James, as both need the ball to play their style.
But the Nuggets loss did what earlier Lakers losses couldn’t — it provided a control factor for a Lakers experiment where everything has been a variable.
The control was: how would the Lakers play without Westbrook? (Westbrook was held out for a hamstring injury.) Would chemistry suddenly look better? Would the shooting percentage rise significantly? Would turnovers become less frequent? Would the defense get stronger? The results are in: No. No. No. And no. New starting lineup, familiar results.
The chemistry remained poor. LeBron James himself committed eight turnovers, twice Westbrook’s career average. The team turnover number was 14, in line with the team’s 14.5 turnover average so far. The Lakers shot 44% from the field including just 26.7% from 3-point-land.
For kicks, the Lakers shot a mere 68.8% from the free throw line. More proof that it doesn’t take Russ to brick a three or a freebie. Any Laker can do it.
But that Nikola Jokic sure was good. He shot 70%, adding 13 rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Lakers who?