It was not exactly the Christmas present the Los Angeles Lakers wanted. The Lakers did manage a 127-101 victory over two-time defending NBA champion Golden State on Christmas Day, but they watched their star, LeBron James, go down with a third-quarter groin injury. James did not return to the game. While the injury did not look that serious – James will have an MRI to determine its extent – the Lakers may have to play without their King for a stretch. How will they get by?
Count on Rondo In playing without James, the Lakers will give up over 27 points per game. To make it through any stretch without the game’s best player, the Lakers will need point guard Rajon Rondo to give them a Christmas miracle. Or at least play as he did on Christmas Day.
Coming off the bench, Rondo played 23 minutes and had 15 points and 10 assists for Los Angeles. Last year in New Orleans, Rondo averaged 8.2 assists. He’s at 6.7 right now. With James out, Rondo will need to come as close as possible to his career averages – 10.4 points and 8.5 assists.
Ingram Becomes the Man Brandon Ingram is averaging 16 points a game, but his 3-point shooting is nine percent off of last year’s pace. Ironically, Ingram shoots and plays better without James on the floor. This season, Ingram has played 110 minutes without James. His true shooting percentage jumps over 10 points to 61 percent. This could be the time of year where Ingram breaks out and becomes the Lakers No. 2 guy (behind James, of course, who will eventually return).
Start Ivica Zubac JaVale McGee is out with pneumonia and Tyson Chandler just returned from an injury, so the Lakers started the 7-1 Zubac the past three games. His season averages of 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds don’t turn any heads, but his play the last three games has. All Zubac has done is shoot 25-of-32 from the floor, scoring 53 points, and grab 26 rebounds. On Christmas Day, Zubac shot 9-of-10 and had 18 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes of play. If he remains consistently efficient, the Lakers will not miss James as much.
3-Ball Anyone? Minus James on the floor, someone – particularly someone in the backcourt – is going to have to step up and make some 3-pointers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope averages 22 minutes a game and shoots 35 percent from 3-point range. That’s the same as James. The difference is that Caldwell-Pope shoots almost two 3s less than James per game.
If not Caldwell-Pope, then maybe it’s Josh Hart. The second-year guard out of Villanova averages over 25 minutes a game and he shoots 38 percent from behind the arc. Against Golden State, Hart was 2-for-6 from long-range and scored 12 points. Lonzo Ball plays more minutes than both Caldwell-Pope and Hart, but Ball only shoots 31 percent from 3-point range. The answer might be Lance Stephenson who hit 3-of-4 from behind the arc against Golden State. Stephenson finished with 11 points. He is the only Laker with significant playing time who is shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range.
If the Lakers are lucky and Rondo, Ingram, and company continue to produce, they won’t even notice James was out of the lineup. Maybe.