Memphis: Every time the Los Angeles Lakers take the court without LeBron James, they find themselves in a precarious state.
Whether he plays in a game or sits out as James did on Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors because of a sore groin, the Lakers have been challenged to fill his void.
Over the course of this season when James has played, the Lakers have a rating of plus-8.4, but it drops to a minus-0.1 when James takes a rest, according to NBA.com.
Anthony Davis pointed out that the Lakers have “got to get better” with their play when James is off the court.
“Usually he’s playing and he comes off the floor, we kind of take a dip in all aspects of the game,” Davis said Thursday night after the Lakers routed the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. “Just the way, the same way we played tonight without him, we got to play like that when he’s playing but when he’s not on the floor. And it’s good for guys to kind of get those reps.
And I think when he comes back that we got to make sure we keep the same pace, same intensity when he’s not on the floor.”
The Lakers are 2-1 when James doesn’t play, beating the Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder and losing to the Denver Nuggets.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after the Warriors game that a decision on whether James plays against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night will be made earlier that day. James is listed as questionable and Danny Green is doubtful with sore right hip.
James leads the Lakers — and the NBA — in assists, averaging a career-high 10.6 per game.
The Lakers miss that and so much more when James doesn’t play.
“Well, we’re different on both ends of the floor,” Vogel said. “LeBron is probably our best communicator on the defensive end so he’s calling out coverages and putting guys in the right spot and obviously he has the ball in his hands a ton offensively.”
Kyle Kuzma took up some of the slack while James watched from the bench against the Warriors.
Kuzma scored 18 points, had three assists and was a plus-23.
His job is to play his role with or without James on the court.
“I’ll still fall in line,” Kuzma said. “Doesn’t matter. Obviously, LeBron not playing allows me to have the ball, pick and roll. But there’re certain times when LeBron’s not playing where I’m able to do that when he’s not on the court. But when he’s on the court, you kind of just fall in line and let that kind of dictate.”
The Lakers have been a tower of strength against their Western Conference rivals, including on the road.
They have now won 18 consecutive games against teams in the West away from Staples Center.
They have the best record in the West (45-12) and second best in the NBA.
The Lakers are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best road record (24-5) and are 31-6 overall against Western Conference opponents.
“Just knowing if we want to get to where we want to get to, you have to win on the road, especially in the Western Conference,” Davis said of reaching the NBA Finals. “So our job is to go in and try to win every game, put our best foot forward and come out victorious. And we’ve been doing that a lot lately, but there’s still a lot that we can get better at and that’s a scary thing for teams and good thing for us that we’re not playing our best at all times and we’re still able to get wins. But it’s our job to go in and look at the bigger picture and be prepared for something other than just one game.”