After a rough start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to be turning things around after earning three straight wins to improve to 5-10.
All of those wins have come without LeBron James as the Lakers star has missed the last four games with a left adductor strain. He will sit out once again against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night as the organization will surely be cautious with James to ensure the injury doesn’t become a bigger issue.
And why wouldn’t they with the way the team has been playing? The Lakers are starting to find a rhythm on both sides of the ball with various different players stepping up in James’ absence.
So with that being said, let’s examine what has worked for the Lakers and how they can continue it whenever James returns.
Davis is dominating
When talking about the Lakers’ recent win streak, there’s nowhere else to start other than the play of Anthony Davis.
In the last three games, Davis is averaging 35 points, 17.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks while shooting 61.7% from the field and 91.2% from the free throw line.
This is the Davis that helped the Lakers win a championship in 2020. He is playing ultra-aggressive offensively, getting into the paint and scoring with ease while also dominating on defense.
When healthy, Davis is proving that he is still a top-five talent in the NBA. The only thing is that Davis needs to be this same guy when James returns.
He has said it himself, but Davis can no longer defer to James, who is obviously banged up in the 20th season of his career. Davis needs to continue playing with this level of aggression, which will make the game easier for James and everyone else moving forward.
Reaves emerging as potential long-term starter
Outside of Davis, the player who has really stood out in this recent stretch is Austin Reaves.
Reaves entered the Lakers’ starting lineup in James’ absence and has averaged 17.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in his last four games. Reaves is one of the few members of the 50/40/90 club so far on the young season.
Similar to Davis, the biggest difference with Reaves has been his level of aggression offensively. Reaves is acting quickly and decisively whenever he has to the ball, creating good looks for himself and his teammates.
The second-year guard is also shooting the ball with confidence, which is big for a Lakers team that lacks shooting.
The question now is that whenever James is able to return, what do you do with Reaves? He has clearly thrived in the starting unit, building chemistry with Davis, Lonnie Walker IV and the rest of that group.
I’ve been saying this for a while now, but I feel that Reaves should be a permanent starter on this team. Patrick Beverley continues to struggle offensively and although he is a quality defender, he lacks the size to guard wings that Reaves has.
When James is able to return, I would roll out a starting lineup of him, Davis, Reaves, Walker and Troy Brown Jr. The Lakers have been getting off to quick starts as of late and Reaves has played a big role in that.
L.A. has more depth with returns of Schroder and Bryant
Finally, even though James has been out, the Lakers have actually added some more depth recently with the returns of Dennis Schroder and Thomas Bryant from thumb injuries.
Both have played limited roles but through two games have looked like legit NBA rotation players, which is big for Darvin Ham and his staff.
Outside of Davis, the Lakers have lacked an inside presence on both sides of the ball. Bryant has provided exactly that, averaging 11.5 points and 7.0 rebounds on 81.8% shooting in 18 minutes per game.
There are some matchups where the Lakers will have to play big, and having Bryant allows them to do that while not sacrificing that important floor spacing.
And while Schroder’s numbers aren’t eye-popping yet, he gives the Lakers another ball-handler that can put pressure on the rim while also defending at a high level.
While losing a player of James’ caliber is never ideal, this time without him may actually be good for the other Lakers players as they are gaining chemistry and confidence.
Now, whenever James is able to return there won’t be added pressure on him to do everything for L.A. He can just step in and play his role, continuing to add to the momentum the Lakers have begun building in his absence.