Newsletter: Lakers have been waiting for something like LeBron James on the COVID-19 protocols list

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (6) in action during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers
The Lakers’ LeBron James in action during the second half of an NBA game against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 24 in Indianapolis. James has entered health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Good morning everyone. It’s Dan Woike back with another fast break into your emails for this week’s Lakers newsletter.

The plans were to use this space to talk about Trevor Ariza and how the veteran’s absences (and impending return) might matter more than people outside of the organization realize. But, and this is true especially this season, you make plans and God laughs.

So instead, we’ve got to address the one thing that matters.

The protocols.

LeBron James tested positive for COVID-19 and will almost certainly miss a handful of games, the Lakers left to hope that the case is mild and that he remains asymptomatic, like Anthony Davis said postgame Tuesday.

Putting the obvious aside — that this is a scary situation made less scary by James being vaccinated and healthy and that his overall well-being is more important than anything else — the basketball implications are fairly interesting. In a lot of ways, the Lakers have been waiting two seasons to see whether they could handle something like this.

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In the aftermath of the Lakers’ bubble championship, the team tried to add more firepower, in part, because of the threat of COVID-19 knocking a player out of the lineup for an extended amount of time.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James plays during the first half.
LeBron James
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

The gamble, which proved to be incorrect, was that Dennis Schröder and Montrezl Harrell were skilled enough offensive players to carry the load if needed for an extended amount of time. Instead, with injuries to James and Davis, the Lakers had to double-down on the defensive end to try and stay afloat.


By taking their depth and flipping it for Russell Westbrook, the Lakers assured that they would have adequate star power should they lose one of their superstars — just like the Brooklyn Nets are enjoying with Kyrie Irving out, having three stars is a pretty good insurance policy.

For the first month of the season, though, the notion that Davis and Westbrook would be good enough to carry the Lakers was laughable. Somehow the two were actually a net negative, minus-7.5 points per 100 possessions, in their 434 minutes on the court together in the Lakers’ first 17 games.

Since, though, that duo has improved with the pair now 1.5 points per 100 possessions better than the opponents in their minutes together.

The change has occurred with Westbrook settling in to his new surroundings in recent weeks, his shooting improving and his turnovers starting to diminish.

In Westbrook’s last 10 games, he’s shooting 47% from the field and 32% from three while dishing out 8.7 assists and grabbing 7.5 rebounds. He’s been a more effective cutter with Davis in the post, and with James totally gassed at the end of the first overtime against the Kings last week, Frank Vogel turned to Westbrook to run pick-and-roll with Davis. (The Lakers scored a go-ahead bucket that Buddy Hield eventually equaled).

As for James and his return, as long as he stays asymptomatic, the absence shouldn’t be too long. According to sources, James’ testing was part of enhanced health and safety procedures after Thanksgiving when the NBA anticipated a spike in cases.

If he returns two negative tests separated by 24 hours, he can return. Same if he stays symptom-free for 10 days.

In the meantime, it’ll be on Westbrook and Davis to continue to build their chemistry and effectiveness — tasks that’ll certainly get tougher when the schedule does.


Easy does it

It’s been sorta the dirty secret of the Lakers’ season so far, lost in the team’s inability to develop continuity, it’s mountain of injuries and ample on-court drama. The schedule has been easy — like really easy — and the Lakers haven’t capitalized.

According to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings, only Milwaukee and Utah have had it easier so far this season. And when you consider that seven of the Lakers’ wins have been by five points or fewer — certainly within the range where luck can be a factor — things could certainly look even worse.

Maybe better competition will inspire more focus and greater effort.

Song of the week

Robyn – Missing U (Live on Later…with Jools Holland)

Swedish pop legend Robyn rules. So would Clippers-Lakers if Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James were on the court. In real life, we have to settle for whoever is healthy, but musically, we don’t have to make any compromises and no one makes better dance music/love songs than Robyn. Again, she rules.

Until next time...

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