After an extremely rough start to the season, things were beginning to look up for the Los Angeles Lakers going into Monday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers.
Not only had the Lakers won four of their last five games to improve to 7-11, but they were also finally starting to get healthy for the first time all season.
The Lakers went into the game against the Pacers looking to keep that momentum going. A win would’ve brought them to 8-11, which would have put them just one game out of the 10th spot in the West while being tied in the loss column with a few playoff teams.
Even though the Lakers have looked like the laughingstock of the league for the first month of the season, the truth is that the Western Conference is wide open right now. The Golden State Warriors are looking as vulnerable as ever, the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings have come back to earth after their hot streaks and the L.A. Clippers have their own injuries issues to deal with.
And the list goes on from there as the New Orleans Pelicans have also dealt with injuries to their stars, the Phoenix Suns lack the depth they’ve had in previous years and the Memphis Grizzlies had regressed after an incredible 2021-22 season.
With how Anthony Davis and LeBron James have looked the last couple of weeks, it’s really not crazy to say that contention is possible for the Lakers in the Western Conference if they make a trade or two to upgrade the pieces around their two stars.
If Davis and James are healthy, that is not a duo that teams will want to gameplan for in a seven-game series.
Optimism comes crashing down with heartbreaking loss
As Lakers fans have come to realize though, whenever there is optimism surrounding this organization, something will happen to temper the excitement. And that was the case on Monday night.
Things were going great for 3.5 quarters. The Lakers built a 17-point lead with 10 minutes to play. Russell Westbrook was dancing and had the crowd rocking. One lady chugged a beer out of her prosthetic leg on the jumbotron, while another won $75,000 for making the half court shot and then busted out a griddy before hugging Davis in celebration.
That exact moment is when Lakers fans should have thought to themselves that this is too good to be true, because it was.
The Lakers wound up blowing the 17-point fourth-quarter lead as they did not execute on offense and the young, scrappy Pacers clawed their way back into it with transition offense and stellar shot-making.
L.A. still had a chance to escape with a victory leading by two late. Myles Turner missed a wide-open 3-pointer on the final possession, but the Lakers were unable to get a rebound. With L.A. in scramble mode, Tyrese Haliburton found a wide-open Andrew Nembhard and he drilled a game-winning 3 at the buzzer.
All of the fans that spent the night cheering and laughing went silent as the Pacers celebrated on the Lakers’ home floor.
It was an inexcusable collapse for a veteran team that dropped the Lakers to 7-12 instead of being 8-11 and right back in the playoff race.
One game doesn’t define a season, but this felt like more than one game for the Lakers. A win would’ve been their fifth in six tries and would’ve continued the much-needed momentum they’d been building.
Now, it’s back to the drawing board for Darvin Ham’s team as they have the most difficult schedule in the NBA in December starting with a six-game East Coast road trip.
The question now though is will the Lakers let this Pacers loss define them and spiral back towards the bottom of the standings, or will they use it as a learning experience and opportunity to get better moving forward?
That question will be answered soon enough as the upcoming stretch of games is arguably the most important of the season for L.A.