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Lakers don’t want to be guessing about who they are for much longer

Lakers' LeBron James reacts after missing a basket under pressure from Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker.
Lakers’ LeBron James reacts after missing a basket under pressure from Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker during first half Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Lakers interim coach David Fizdale said he hadn’t heard. All his meetings and all the coaching staff’s attentions squarely on San Antonio ahead of Thursday’s game.

But while they were in that fog, the NBA canceled the Brooklyn Nets’ next game because of a lack of healthy players, a move that could put their Christmas Day meeting with the Lakers in jeopardy.

It’s sort of a perfect moment — the team that no one can quite figure out, the Lakers, in a situation where it’d be foolish to try to predict anything in the future.

“You just can’t predict what’s going to happen and I think that’s the part that’s, I don’t want to say confusing, but that’s the part that’s up in the air,” Carmelo Anthony said. “It’s the unknown. And when you have an unknown with something like this virus, what we’re dealing with, you just never know what’s going to happen day to day.”

The Lakers don’t know if any of their four players currently in the protocols are going to get cleared. They don’t know for sure when either of their two coaches, including head coach Frank Vogel, are going to be back. And they don’t know who it’s going to affect next.

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It’s safe to say that the one thing the Lakers are most comfortable with 32 games into this season is that they’re not comfortable with much of anything.

The end of Staples Center is nearly here, and the Lakers squandered their best chance at a meaningful win over the Suns before the Crypto.com Arena era starts.

It’s why LeBron James can defend his team being .500 with 50 games left to play — a slew of injuries, including his own, and trips in and out of the NBA’s COVID-19 protection plan keeping the Lakers roster from ever truly stabilizing.

Can the Lakers truly assess who they are and what they can be at this stage of the season?

“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think so. … We don’t know. We have no idea what this team can be,” a mildly exasperated James said after his team got badly beaten Tuesday. “…How can we really fully assess what we have when we haven’t been whole? I can’t remember the last time we played the same starting lineup and had the same rotation coming off the bench. It’s been a long time.

“So, it’s hard to assess that.”

Or maybe it isn’t?

Maybe the most critical data point so far this season is that the Lakers, a team full of odd-fitting superstars and old legs, haven’t spent a lot of time on the court together. Who can say that will ever change? How do we know today’s turned ankles and MCL sprains won’t be hamstring strains and dislocated shoulders tomorrow?

Lakers' Isaiah Thomas is double-teamed by Phoenix Suns' Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder.
Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas is double-teamed by Phoenix Suns’ Mikal Bridges, left, and Jae Crowder, right, during Tuesday’s second half at Staples Center.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Lakers’ continuity and injury problems, at least with 32 games of hindsight, are pretty obvious for a team with a bunch of new players and a bunch of older players (or ones with injury histories) who also happen to be playing in a pandemic.

If there’s reason for optimism, it’s that the Lakers are being tested repeatedly, forced to adapt and to search for ways to win. Maybe they’ll unearth a roster player or two as they try to fill out their team and get the kinds of rotational depth that they’ve struggled to establish. And maybe they’ll be mentally stronger as a team once they get to the other side of this rotten luck.

“We’re adjusting on the fly, which right now is what it is,” Westbrook said Tuesday. “There’s no excuses for that. We just gotta find ways to win games. That’s it. Right now we’re just trying to find ways to be able to win games. That’s it.”

That search has taken them already to more places than they could’ve anticipated. It’s probably OK to assume that it’ll have so more twists and turns before things settle down. That’s sort of the story of this season, especially for the Lakers.

Talen Horton-Tucker was rusty in the Lakers’ 108-90 loss to the Phoenix. The young guard struggled with his shooting in his first game after missing three.

But time is running out for the Lakers to wait for concrete examples before they need to make big decisions. Soon, it’ll be trade season. And then the buyout market will open after that. The Lakers don’t want to be guessing about who they are for much longer.

But in a pandemic when you can’t even be sure whether or not you’ll be able to play, certainty is the NBA’s scarcest material.

“We play tomorrow, so again you’re just taking it and living day to day,” Anthony said Wednesday. “You just don’t know what’s gonna happen. We could wake up tomorrow morning and they could say our game tomorrow is canceled. And you just don’t… again, we don’t know what’s gonna happen.”


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