The Lakers defeated the Thunder 125-110 last night, in a game that might have proven more than your typical regular season match-up in January. The Lakers got the win, despite not having their three highest paid, and arguably most talented players available. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Danny Green all sat out, and forced the Lakers bench to show up against what had been a surging Oklahoma City team. Why this is relevant is the Lakers are typically considered a real two-man operation, with LeBron and AD leading the way. That duo was much discussed in the off-season, but experts and fans were fairly skeptical about the teams supposed lack of surrounding talent. At 5/2, the Lakers are the favorites in Vegas to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of this season, but I’m sure that fans of the purple and gold were happy to see their team take care of business without either of their superstars.
If you count DeMarcus Cousins, then the Lakers were missing four players, who are earning a combined $82.6 million this year- about 70 percent of the team’s payroll. Even for a first-place team, that kind of bad luck can be difficult to overcome in a given game. An hour before the Lakers took the court, the New Orleans Pelicans tipped off against the Boston Celtics and got annihilated. The correlation between the two games, other than timing, is that the Pelicans were similarly stricken with injuries. Without Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, J.J. Reddick, or Zion Williamson, the Pels were missing four of their best six players. Additionally, they were dealing with injuries to Kenrich Williams, who’s been an important role player for the team this year, and Darius Miller who has yet to play this season after tearing his Achilles in August. Altogether, that meant the team had six players unavailable, earning a combined $75.7 million, or 65 percent of their payroll.
The fact that the Lakers are leading the Western Conference while the Pelicans remain near the bottom is an important distinction, but the two cases should still be compared for several reasons. The Pelicans may be struggling overall this season, but have started to find themselves as of late, and they’re one solid win streak away from the 8 seed if everything breaks their way. Additionally, while writers and analysts have been critical of the Lakers’ depth, they have frequently praised the job David Griffin has done filling out the roster for the Pelicans. While one game doesn’t prove anything, it was interesting to see the disparity in performance between the two teams when they were both battling similar adversity. Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo were able to lead their squad to a double-digit win, while the Pelicans got blown out.
LeBron missed the OKC game due to an illness and Davis is essentially dealing with a nasty bruise on his butt, so there’s a good chance they’ll return before too long. Even so, the Lakers’ roster is still likely not in championship form as they’re 0-2 against the Clippers so far this season. A trade or two may be in order to really round them out as true championship favorites. Still, their bench may be in better shape than we originally thought, especially if their role players can continue their hot shooting from deep. On the Pelicans side, they are really showing how much of their success this season will depend on getting healthy. Until that happens, expect them to remain near the bottom of the West.