Column: Good Lakers? Bad Lakers? It’s impossible to predict where this team is heading

Lakers star LeBron James puts up a shot in front of Minnesota's Naz Reid.
Lakers star LeBron James puts up a shot in front of Minnesota’s Naz Reid during the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 120-109 victory Sunday at Arena. James finished with 29 points.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers are steaming to the NBA Finals.

The Lakers are spiraling to a play-in disaster.

The Lakers are inspired. The Lakers are insipid.

The Lakers are majestic. The Lakers are mediocre.

The Lakers are … who knows what they are?

With 16 games left in the regular season, they are the NBA’s most confused team, on the brink of either glory or gory, it changes every day, sometimes every hour, sometimes every minute, witness a cuckoo Sunday night that could have won an Oscar for cinematography.

For three quarters at Arena, against a Minnesota Timberwolves team missing its two big men and four rotational players, the Lakers strikingly stunk.


Anthony Davis finishes with 27 points, 25 rebounds and seven steals as the Lakers overcome 20 turnovers in a 120-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

March 10, 2024

They were trailing by a point. They had committed 18 turnovers. They had allowed nearly 50% shooting. They were a dozen scoreboard minutes from one of the worst losses of the season.

In less than half that time, they turned it into one of their best wins.

They began the quarter on a 16-2 run. LeBron James was scoring. Anthony Davis was fighting. Everyone was passing, smartly, beautifully, the run epitomized by a three-toss sequence from Davis to James to a trey-sinking Austin Reaves that was so picturesque, all three guys posed.

Shortly after the once-sweating stars were dismissed early, the Lakers closed out a 120-109 victory that moved them six games above .500 for the first time in nearly three years and coach Darvin Ham couldn’t help himself.

“Regardless of who we’re playing, being the best version of ourselves, that’s all we’ve been talking about ... how great can we be?” Ham said. “When we’re going out and performing like we know we are capable of, we like our chances, to say the least.”

Lakers star Anthony Davis yells after scoring and drawing a foul while standing next to LeBron James.
Lakers star Anthony Davis yells after scoring and drawing a foul while standing next to LeBron James during the fourth quarter Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He was talking about the Good Lakers.

But now listen to Davis, who took advantage of the huge hole in Minnesota’s middle by racking up the NBA’s first 27-point, 25-rebound, seven-steal night since the league began keeping track of steals 40 years ago.


He chose to bring up the Bad Lakers.

“We know that we can line up against anybody and beat them if we play the right way,” he said. “If we don’t, then we can line up against anybody and lose.”

Such was the theme of the last eight days at Crypto, the most compelling stretch of the season, during which the Lakers went 3-2 in vastly different games against similarly gifted playoff teams.

Right way, win. Wrong way, lose. No way to predict which way will be next.

Try to follow along…

D’Angelo Russell used criticism and doubt to fuel his 44-point performance in the Lakers’ 123-122 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

March 9, 2024

Bad Lakers: They began the stretch by once again collapsing in the final minutes in a loss to the defending champion Denver Nuggets, ruining James’ 40,000-point celebration while confirming an absolute truth: They can’t beat the Nuggets!

They have lost eight straight to Denver, with most of those defeats coming in crunch time, because smart and cohesive Denver is darn near unbeatable when it counts, and the Lakers aren’t.

Good Lakers: They scraped themselves off the floor two days after Denver and dominated the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder in a victory that provided yet another exclamation: They can easily beat the Thunder!

The Lakers have defeated the Thunder in three straight games with a savvy defense that even the league’s best shooting team can’t figure out. The Thunder could get a high seed and play the Lakers in the first round and … bring it on.


Bad Lakers: Two days after the Thunder roll, the Lakers were absolutely crowned by the Sacramento Kings while enduring another defeated message: They can’t beat the Kings!

Lakers guard Austin Reaves, right, steals the ball from Minnesota's Anthony Edwards during the third quarter Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Sacramento has won four straight against the Lakers mostly because Domantas Sabonis seemingly wins every duel with Davis. The Lakers don’t want any piece of this irritating cowbell of a team in the playoffs.

Good Lakers: Two days after playing jester to the Kings, the Lakers shrugged off an injury-related absence by James to blast the East power Milwaukee Bucks.

How about that D’Angelo Russell, huh? Admit it, you wanted him traded. Everyone wanted him traded. He scored a season-high 44 points against the Bucks, including 21 in the fourth quarter. Having shut everybody up, he then celebrated the occasion to unfurl what might be the quote of the year.

“Off the floor, obviously you all know what I’ve been through,” he said. “Public humiliation has done nothing but mold me into the killer that you all see today. I never lack confidence. I never fear confrontation. I want all the smoke.”

It was that smoke that followed the Lakers onto the court Sunday against the Timberwolves, who entered the game missing injured big men Karl Anthony-Towns and Rudy Gobert and setting the stage for a big Lakers victory.


Which they achieved. Eventually. Sort of.

Check back Wednesday when they travel to Sacramento. Check back again Saturday here against Golden State. Keep checking back over the next couple of weeks to see if this sticks.

Cross your fingers that James can suffer through his bad ankle, and that Davis continues to recover from a sore shoulder injured against Milwaukee, and that Russell keeps shooting and Reaves keeps wowing and … well, cross everything and hope against hope and know that nobody will know anything until this ride finally ends.

Lakers players are frustrated they’ve lost eight consecutive games to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, and there’s no sign of the trend reversing soon.

March 3, 2024

“I just think we’re trending in the right direction, it’s a huge upswing in the way we’re playing, we’re playing for one another, bringing the effort, playing hard,” Ham said.

However …

“We’ve just got to keep trending in this direction,” he acknowledged. “Just take things one day at a time, one game at a time.”

It only figures that this colorful Lakers season is best described in a cliché. This team truly can only be judged one day at a time, one game at a time … or, as Sunday proved, six minutes at a time.

Good Lakers. Bad Lakers. Damn Lakers.