Plaschke: Good Lakers? Bad Lakers? It’s impossible to predict where this team will go

By | March 11, 2024

Los Angeles, California, March 10, 2024 – Lakers LeBron James defeated Timberwolves Naz Reid.

The Lakers are heading to the NBA Finals.

The Lakers are evolving into a play-in disaster.

The Lakers are inspired. The Lakers are lame.

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 glory or blood. It changes every day, sometimes every hour, sometimes every minute, witness a cuckoo on Sunday night that could have won an Oscar for cinematography.

For three quarters inside Crypto.com Arena, against a Minnesota Timberwolves team missing its two big men and four rotation players, the Lakers noticeably stunk.

Read more: Anthony Davis’ unprecedented play carries the turnover-plagued Lakers past Minnesota

They were one point behind. They committed 18 turnovers. They had allowed almost 50 percent of the shootings. They were a dozen scoreboard minutes away from one of their worst defeats of the season.

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

They started the quarter on a 16-2 run. LeBron James scored. Anthony Davis was fighting. Everyone passed smartly and beautifully, the run epitomized by a series of three throws from Davis to James to a sinking Austin Reaves that was so picturesque that all three boys posed.

Shortly after the once sweaty stars were prematurely dismissed, the Lakers pulled off a 120-109 victory that put them six games above .500 for the first time in almost three years and coach Darvin Ham couldn’t do anything about it.

“Regardless of who we’re playing, being the best version of ourselves is all we’ve talked about… how great can we be?” said Ham. “If we go out and perform like we know we are capable of, we like our chances, to say the least.”

Lakers star Anthony Davis screams after scoring and drawing a foul while standing next to LeBron James.Lakers star Anthony Davis screams after scoring and drawing a foul while standing next to LeBron James.

Lakers star Anthony Davis screams 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 Minnesota’s huge hole in the middle by posting the first 27-point, 25-rebound, seven-steal night in the NBA since the league started keeping track of steals 40 years ago.

He chose to bring up the Bad Lakers.

“We know we can play against anyone and beat them if we play the right way.

he said. “If we don’t do that, we could line up against anyone and lose.”

That’s been the theme of the past eight days at Crypto, the most compelling part of the season, with the Lakers going 3-2 in vastly different games against similarly gifted playoff teams.

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

Try to follow along…

Read more: ‘I’m never afraid of confrontation’: Why D’Angelo Russell shined in Lakers win over Bucks

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

They have lost eight in a row to Denver, and most of those losses come at the last minute, because smart and cohesive Denver is virtually unbeatable when it counts, and the Lakers are not.

Good Lakers: They scraped themselves off the floor two days after Denver and dominated the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder in a win that prompted yet another shout-out. They can easily beat the Thunder!

The Lakers have defeated the Thunder in three straight games with a smart 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: Unfortunately, two days after the Thunder roll, the Lakers were absolutely crowned by the Sacramento Kings while enduring yet another report of defeat. They can’t beat the kings!

Lakers guard Austin Reaves, right, steals the ball from Minnesota's Anthony Edwards during the third quarter on Sunday.Lakers guard Austin Reaves, right, steals the ball from Minnesota's Anthony Edwards during the third quarter on Sunday.

Sacramento has won four straight against the Lakers, mainly because Domantas Sabonis seemingly wins every game against Davis. The Lakers want no part of this annoying cowbell of a team in the playoffs.

Good Lakers: Two days after playing the Kings, the Lakers overcame an injury-related absence from James to destroy the East Power Milwaukee Bucks.

What 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. After silencing everyone, he celebrated the opportunity to reveal what might be the quote of the year.

“From the floor up, obviously you all know what I went through,” he said. “Public humiliation only shaped me into the killer you all see today. I never lack confidence. I am never afraid of confrontation. I want all the smoke.”

It was that smoke that followed the Lakers onto the court on Sunday against the Timberwolves, who were missing injured big men Karl Anthony-Towns and Rudy Gobert in the game, paving the way for a big Lakers victory.

What they achieved. Possibly. Kind of.

Check back on Wednesday when they travel to Sacramento. Come back here on Saturday against Golden State. Keep checking back in the coming weeks to see if this sticks.

Cross your fingers that James may be bothered by his bad ankle, and that Davis continues to recover from a painful shoulder injury against Milwaukee, and that Russell continues to shoot and Reaves continues to amaze and… well, cross everything and hope against hope and know that no one will know everything until this ride finally ends.

Read more: Analysis: Lakers are frustrated because they can’t beat Nuggets, and the problem is only getting worse

“I just think we’re going in the right direction. It’s a huge uptick in the way we’re playing. We’re playing for each other, making the effort and playing hard,” Ham said.

However…

“We just have to keep moving in this direction,” he acknowledged. “Take things one day at a time, one game at a time.”

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

Good Lakers. Bad Lakers. Damn Lakers.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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