EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – This isn’t quite what the Lakers expected.
In a year of massive unpredictability, nobody could have accurately guessed what the reopening of the NBA would look like.
There have been many good signs. Most notably, the coronavirus has stayed away from the league’s closed site in Orlando, with the NBA announcing a third consecutive week of zero positive cases among almost 350 players.
The basketball quality itself has been fun, with teams routinely scoring 110, even 120 points a game after the four-month layoff. The Lakers, though, have yet to ride the wave of offense.
Since the restart, they’re last in points (99.3 a game), field-goal percentage (39.8 percent) and three-point shooting (25.2 percent). They’re also last in made three-pointers (8.8 a game) and field goals (33.3). They’re second-to-last in assists (19.5).
You get the picture.
On a good note, the Lakers brought their trademark defense to Orlando, where they sit third among 22 teams in defensive rating. They also wrapped up the Western Conference’s top record and really have nothing to play for until playoffs.
But they undoubtedly need to find rhythm and shed the effects of a suddenly laboring offense that can’t find any outside shooting and breezy baskets in an environment where points seemingly come so easily
LeBron James, for his part, has seen and done just about everything on a basketball court.
At the top of the list was making Cleveland the first team ever to face a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and come back to win it all.
So it was somewhat intriguing to hear him acknowledge unfamiliarity with the Lakers’ current situation. He called it “totally different” from anything he’d been through in his career.
“I have zero experience with having the No. 1 seed inside of a bubble during seeding games playing in August,” he said. “This is all a learning experience for all of us.”
He wasn’t admitting defeat or despair or anything close to that. Please. It’s LeBron James. But the wonderment in his voice was something unusual, if not humbling to hear, after the Lakers fell to 2-2 in reseeding games.
James, 35, has had some splashy moments on offense but also shot under 37 percent in two of the Lakers’ four reseeding games. The team has announced that he will sit out tonight's meeting with the Houston Rockets due to a sore groin.
Meanwhile, who will be the Lakers’ first-round opponent when playoffs start in a week and a half? Great question.
Memphis entered the reseeding games with a slight lead for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot but is fading quickly without rising star Jaren Jackson Jr., who is done for the season because of torn knee cartilage.
Portland and New Orleans are positioned to claim the eighth and ninth spot, with New Orleans potentially overtaking Portland because of an easier schedule. All five of the Pelicans’ final games are against teams with losing records.
Assuming the two teams finish eighth and ninth, there would be a brief “play-in” series to determine who gets to face the Lakers.
Portland and New Orleans pose unique challenges to the Lakers. The Trail Blazers have a veteran-tested lineup, including a Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt averaging 51.3 points a game. Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside give Portland two highly capable big men as well.
New Orleans is still going through growing pains but has undeniable talent and a tailor-made story if it makes the playoffs. Former Lakers Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart were all part of the Anthony Davis trade.
Not that the Lakers are looking that far yet. They have a few things of their own to work on.
Mike Bresnahan is Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet.