Getting Old Sucks
11:28 AM EDT on April 6, 2023
The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, 125-118. The two teams are currently fighting it out for playoff seeding in the clogged middle of the Western Conference; this result put the Clippers into the fifth seed and the Lakers closer to having to participate in the play-in tournament. It was a big game that didn't exactly play out like one, mostly due to the circumstances under which it occurred.
For the Lakers, the game was their second in as many days, following an overtime thriller against Utah in which LeBron James played 38 minutes, scored 37 points, and hit the game-winning layup. It was also their third game in four nights. You could see the consequences of this throughout the first half.
The entire Lakers roster was out of sorts—missing passes, missing free throws, just not quite on it—but the first half was particularly bad for James. He turned the ball over four times and hit just one of his six field goal attempts. He wasn't helped much by Anthony Davis, who scored just six first-half points. By halftime, the Clippers had a 19-point lead.
Before the game tipped off, it wasn't clear that James and Davis would even be available to play. Both players are dealing with nagging foot injuries, and were upgraded from questionable to available just 45 minutes before the game started. Afterwards, James called the loss "one of the toughest games we've had all year." He went on to lament the Lakers' recently compressed schedule:
Coming off the road trip and getting back late last night, after an overtime game ... this was one of those scheduling conflicts in the season and definitely got the best of us tonight.ESPN
Of course, because he is LeBron James, he still ended up with a sparkling box score. He scored 30 points in the second half on 12-of-14 shooting, but it wasn't quite enough to erase the big first-half deficit. The Clippers, meanwhile, were able to play Kawhi Leonard 43 minutes, in which he put up 25 points, and Norman Powell also got hot enough to tack on 27. Russell Westbrook, playing against his old team for the first time, was even hitting threes, which was a sure sign of how the night would go for the Lakers.
This is just how life is for the Lakers. James is old and Davis is brittle, and issues like back-to-backs, long nights of travel, and short recovery times are just as much of an obstacle as their opponents. It's a problem that won't go away in the playoffs, either. James won't have to play back-to-backs in the playoffs, but the accumulation of games, should the Lakers advance, will take their toll. Because there are no great or bad teams in the Western Conference playoff picture, it's way more likely that there are long series ahead of us. James's effort has been Herculean this year—there's a reason his teammates have recently taken to making goat noises during his postgame interviews—but at some point, age is impossible to overcome.
James is nearing his last go around the mountain, at least as a team's primary/co-primary engine. This is typically how the end goes: You're still you, but just a lesser version, and more vulnerable to the things you can't control. We saw exactly what that looks like for James during Wednesday night's loss. In the first half, he was a creaky old man failing to keep his grip on the ball, and in the second he was LeBron Fucking James. He's not entirely one or the other, but the Lakers' fate will be decided by which one he can be most often.
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