Lakers among biggest halfway disappointments, but LeBron James still looks like playoff cheat code


And just like that, we are approaching the mid-season of the 2021-22 season with the trade deadline in a month and the All-Star hiatus shortly thereafter. It’s still technically early in the NBA calendar, but it’s not this early. We’ve seen enough to make honest reviews, which looks great for some teams and terrible for others.

I will have the nicest surprises later this week.

Right now, we’re taking a look at the five biggest disappointments, starting with a Lakers team that could be on the rise.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James is in tears, but there’s not much he can do with an extremely flawed roster and Anthony Davis in formal attire. Coming on Monday, the Lakers are 21-20 and below the line of play in the Western Conference. The deal with Russell Westbrook seems dire at the limit, and not because Westbrook has been so terrible relatively speaking. It’s just who he is, and it serves the Lakers and LeBron to chase a guy whose name has, for a while, gone way beyond his game.

The Lakers have had some success playing LeBron with four shooters without a traditional big lately, but let’s keep their recent four-game winning streak in perspective: he came against the Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, Kings and Hawks. , who have a combined record of 62-90. The second they faced a very good team – the Grizzlies on Sunday – it was again up for grabs. The Lakers are 6-12 against teams with winning records and defensive bleeding points with LeBron in the middle.

To be fair, they’ve been hit with the injury / illness virus just like everyone else, and if Davis gets his jumper back on his return, the Lakers can retain many of their small-ball advantages – better shot and better shot. Open way for downhill basket attacks from James and Westbrook – without giving up so much defensively.

The best news: LeBron, with minimal help, still looks like a cheat code star who can disguise a mediocre team as a good one and the next thing you know is the conference finals and he’s the best. player on the field. Despite the recently sluggish schedule, there have been some real flashes of a good team here. If you’re not there for Malik Monk, we can’t be friends. Austin Reaves can just play. I will go down with Carmelo Anthony, even if I know one hundred percent that I am indeed going down.

Still, this is LeBron, who has more 30-point games than any other player in the league. It’s just amazing how awesome he still is, and as such this review could be very different a month from now, if not sooner.

But so far, there’s no way to categorize a team like James, Davis and Westbrook operating at a 0.500 level – and even that could be a lot worse as the Lakers have won five games in overtime – like any other. thing a big disappointment.

2. Portland Trail Blazers

When the since-fired general manager Neil Olshey said the Blazers’ 29th-ranked defense last season was not a product of the roster he had put together, everyone knew it wasn’t. ; Terry Stotts, who led the Blazers to eight straight playoff appearances, was thrown under a fake bus. Chauncey Billups was Olshey’s savior, and what do you know: The Blazers, who once again took the route of adding peripheral guys rather than changing a significant base component, are again the 29th ranked defense.

But with Stotts, they still won games despite that horrible defense. With the Billups, the Blazers are struggling everywhere. They are a mediocre offensive team with the seventh worst net score in the league. Came on Tuesday, are 16-24 and are hovering over the line of play. Yes, CJ. McCollum and Damian Lillard missed 24 games combined, but it’s not like they’ve been world beaters with those two in the lineup – 10-10 with a net score of minus-2-3 , according to Cleaning the Glass.

I didn’t see it coming. I’ve been programmed to believe that the Blazers can overcome their defensive shortcomings with individual marksmanship doing enough to thrive in the regular season and pose at least a chilling threat in the playoffs. I picked them to finish as the No.2 team in the West, and predicted Lillard would win MVP. Instead, Lillard is probably having the worst season of his career. It’s getting harder and harder to imagine the Blazers not blowing this thing up somehow.

3. The Atlanta Hawks

After a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season that made everyone believe they were about to be in contention, the Hawks are 17-22 and are currently in the game. outside of play-in. Their defense is the culprit, 28th in efficiency by CTG, and general manager Travis Schlenk is not happy. Some sort of trade seems likely. Atlanta has reportedly emerged as a serious contender for Ben Simmons.

It would make sense. Atlanta has a lot of option third and fourth type wings that could be consolidated into a bigger two-way piece of the title race puzzle. Last season, Clint Capela covered a lot in the backend; this year it has not been the same. The offenses put Trae Young and Capela in pick-and-rolls for just about any shot they want.

Once again, Atlanta has been hammered by COVID and injuries. You’d love to see how much of a difference De’Andre Hunter could make on defense once he returns, but it doesn’t look like Schlenk has the patience for that. Additionally, there is much more evidence that this team is not ready to compete even at full strength than there is reason to believe in its core.

Remember, the Hawks were just a .500 team when they moved from Lloyd Pierce to Nate McMillan last March. They beat a very mediocre Knicks team in the first round and their defense was good against the struggling Sixers. Young is a star and he almost put them in the final, but the pieces around could use a boost. I say could be able because there are a lot of really good players on this team, and I believe in Trae’s impact going into the playoffs in raising the Hawks above their statistical profile.

But at 17-22 with a doormat defense, there is obviously good reason for concern.

The Celtics have lost four games this season in which they led by up to 19 points, the league’s biggest smother. They lost another lead on Monday, up 11 over the Pacers in the fourth quarter. Jayson Tatum bailed them out with a low percentage pull-up in the corner to send him to overtime, where Boston escaped with the win, but that type of game has gone bad for the Celtics for most of the season. .

The Celtics are a terrible fourth quarter and clutch team. It’s been like this since last season. They turn into a stagnant collection of individual riders. New coach Ime Udoka appears to be from the Mark Jackson and Mike Singletary school, who makes his heart, effort and composure “want him more than the next one” without worrying about putting his players in trouble. good positions to succeed. In his defense, he wants a ball and player movement, but has a roster full of guys who want to play in their own sack.

Either way, the Celtics aren’t a good team: the No.10 East at 20-21 came into play on Tuesday. The COVID qualifier applies, but does not go further. It has been a surprisingly disappointing team for a season and a half now. It just doesn’t add up to the sum of his fairly talented parts. Outside of the draft assets, could a Jaylen Brown or Tatum trade be the last card Boston can play?

5. The New York Knicks

The first four seeds last season were deceptive – they were a bad offensive team that had a lot of defensive luck. Julius Randle played the best basketball of his life. This season everything has regressed to what is probably the true center of New York City as an absolutely average basketball team. That way, this season isn’t as much of a bummer as last season was a surprise.

Yet the hopes were higher than that. The Knicks are 20-21 years old and are currently linked with the lottery. Rank 18th in attack and 16th in defense with an essentially neutral differential of minus 0.5 points, per CTG. Again, the average everywhere you look with a starting lineup that has been decimated to minus-73 for the season, the worst rating of any squad that has played at least 250 minutes together.

Kemba Walker was on the bench. Evan Fournier is extremely hot and cold and cannot keep his shadow. Randle is once again a bad shooter who takes bad shots and has the ineffective marks to prove it. If you’re waiting for RJ Barrett to turn into something more than a spinning coin that sometimes gives you hope, you better get comfortable. This is another team that feels ripe for some sort of big business.

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