NBA

NBA 2022-23: Can the Lakers bounce back or will LeBron regret penning new deal?

By Sports Desk October 05, 2022

It is safe to say 2021-22 was a season to forget for the Los Angeles Lakers.

A record of 33-49 meant failure to even reach the play-in tournament, unthinkable at the start of the campaign.

The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference, and only managed a measly three wins from 13 against Pacific Division opponents.

They actually won five of their first eight games, but by the end of the season they had reached peak crisis-mode.

Heading into their final 10 games, the Lakers knew they needed to win several to get into the playoffs, before proceeding to lose eight in a row, with two consolation victories saving a minimal amount of face.

It was quite the failure, and yet LeBron James did not seem to think twice about signing a new two-year, $97.1million contract extension that includes a player option for 2024-25.

Before the new season gets underway, Stats Perform has taken a look at the Lakers' prospects to try and determine if there is cause for optimism, or if James could be left to carry the load on his own once again.

Can LeBron get Lakers out of a jam?

The man has four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs to his name, but this could be his biggest challenge to date.

Basketball is clearly a team sport, but as James knows all too well, it's not unusual for one player to play so well that he can carry a team to success almost single-handedly.

That did not happen last season, despite his best efforts, which goes to show just how poorly the rest of the team performed.

James scored 1,695 points in just 56 games at an average of 30.3 points per game, his best regular season return since 2005-06, and only Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers averaged more (30.6).

He also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

Of course, one of the issues was that he only managed to play 56 games, and as James turns 38 in December, is he likely to be more involved this year?

Even if he is, his impressive numbers last season achieved little in terms of the team's outcome, so will he get more help this time round? Perhaps, if the new coach can make an impact.

 

Can Ham sandwich Westbrook into his team?

The dismissal of Frank Vogel was about the most predictable thing that happened at the end of last season.

Just as you thought the Lakers were pulling out of danger, the wheels would fall off again, which was a recurring theme throughout the campaign, with Vogel unable to maintain any consistency.

His replacement, Darvin Ham, comes highly rated and with a quiet confidence he can step up having impressed as assistant at the Milwaukee Bucks.

One of his first jobs will be to form a unit out of his key players, in particular finding a way to get James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on the court together as often as possible.

While not perfect, the Lakers did win 11 of their 21 games last season when all three featured, but had losing records when only two, one or none of them played, including defeat all five games where only Westbrook played of the three.

Westbrook actually recorded his worst scoring season since 2009-10, failing to average over 20 points per game for the first time since then (18.5).

His rebound and assist numbers were also well down on those he produced at the Washington Wizards in 2020-21, with average rebounds falling from 11.5 to 7.4, and assists from 11.7 to 7.1.

He was, at least, available though, making 78 appearances, while James played 56 times, and Davis just 40.

 

AD's lack of availability could potentially the biggest issue, as he also only managed 36 outings in 2020-21, meaning he has played less basketball in the last two years than Westbrook did last season.

However, he is – for the time being – fit now, and after the Lakers' opening preseason encounter with the Sacramento Kings on Monday, Ham said of the trio: "They allowed themselves to help one another… we have a three-series that involves all three of them, a half-court play call, and I think they're gonna thrive."

There have been persistent rumours the Lakers will trade Westbrook, but Ham is seemingly working towards life with the 33-year-old, also saying on Monday: "I have a plan for him. That plan included him when they gave me the job."

Keeping them fit is one thing, albeit mostly out of Ham's hands, but if he can find a way of getting the most out of them when they are available to him, and can coax the Wizards form out of Westbrook, that could be the support James so badly needs.

A new face and a familiar one

The consensus was that the Lakers needed fresh blood, rather than relying on older players to rediscover their magic.

So naturally, they brought in 34-year-old Patrick Beverley and re-signed nine-year NBA veteran Dennis Schroder.

In fairness, there does appear to be method in the two acquisitions. Beverley was crucial for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they returned to the playoffs last season, averaging 9.2 points in his 54 games, as well as 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 34.3 per cent of his three-pointers.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka also pointed to his "toughness" and "competitive spirit", possibly suggesting Beverley has been signed as much to inspire his team-mates as much as what he can do with the ball in hand.

Schroder was an interesting pick-up given the German shooting guard's struggles in the playoff exit to the Phoenix Suns in 2020-21, before leaving for the Boston Celtics.

Overall though, he had a good record of 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 61 games that season, and rumours are that James played a key role in getting him back to LA.

Just make the playoffs and go from there

There are definitely things to work with for Ham, but it is also far from a simple job.

While he was pleased with the showing from his main men against the Kings, he will have been alarmed to see the drop-off once he made changes in the second half.

Leading by five points at half-time, the Lakers went on to lose by 30 at the Crypto.com Arena.

They tip off with the hardest possible job of stopping Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors on October 18, but an NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The Lakers do not need to be perfect, but Ham has the regular season to find the right formula and as a minimum, reach the playoffs.

Then just see where James can take them in the situation he has so often thrived in, assuming he gets more help this time.

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    St. Louis City will be desperate to snap a record six-game winless run in MLS when they host Colorado Rapids at CityPark Stadium on Thursday.

    The Missouri-based side have just three wins from their 17 league matches this term, falling down to 11th in the Western Conference standings.

    Bradley Carnell's men have not triumphed in MLS action since a 3-1 win over Chicago Fire in the middle of May, and were defeated 2-0 by FC Dallas last time out.

    St. Louis coach Carnell referenced injury struggles, however, as his side continue to battle through a troubling period.

    "Obviously, it doesn’t take a genius to look at the roster and see where we are. We're not the first team to struggle with this.

    "Now we get challenged and now get to prove what we are as a group, team, organisation and unit – sticking together.

    "We have a plethora of young players who are performing [for our academy] and we will keep some of those guys with us through the week."

    The Rapids have enjoyed a better season, sitting sixth in the West table after returning to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Austin FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

    That ended a four-game winless streak for Colorado, who secured a much-needed victory after a rocketed finish from Cole Bassett before Rafael Navarro netted his 10th goal of the season.

    The next challenge for the Rapids is to secure back-to-back victories for the first time since April, though they have lost three straight on the road.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    St. Louis City – Jared Stroud

    Jared Stroud was involved in a goal in both matches (one goal, one assist) against the Rapids last season.

    The St. Louis man has eight assists to his name in MLS this season, too, and will hope to deliver once more when Colorado come to town.

    Colorado Rapids – Djordje Mihailovic

    Djordje Mihailovic has scored in each of the Rapids' last three away matches.

    He is the first Rapids player to score in three straight away from home in a single regular season since Shkelzen Gashi scored in five straight on the road from June-October 2016.

    MATCH PREDICTION – ST. LOUIS CITY WIN

    St. Louis are the heavy favourites for victory in this encounter, considering their record against the Rapids.

    Carnell's side collected four points from their two matches against Colorado last season, including a 2-0 win at home last July.

    Colorado have lost their last three road matches, conceding 10 goals in those games, and that run of form comes as no surprise.

    Indeed, the Rapids have lost 15 of their last 21 away from home in all competitions (W3 D3), dating back to last May.

    Yet a home win is by no means a foregone conclusion.

    St. Louis are winless in six straight matches (D2 L4) for the first time in club history. They have just three wins so far, tied for the fewest in MLS this season, though all three have come at home.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    St. Louis City win – 48.8%

    Colorado Rapids win – 25.5%

    Draw – 25.7%

  • Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Selecao on Ronaldo's landmark outing Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Selecao on Ronaldo's landmark outing

    Francisco Conceicao proved the hero on his first competitive appearance for Portugal after his stoppage-time winner snatched a 2-1 victory over Czechia in their Euro 2024 opener.

    Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player in the European Championship's 64-year history to appear in six editions, but his landmark moment was overshadowed by a glimpse into Portugal's future.

    Conceicao was introduced after 90 minutes and scored just two minutes later, capitalising on a loose ball to send Portugal level on points with leaders Turkiye, who beat Georgia 3-1 earlier on Tuesday in Group F.

    Robin Hranac's unavoidable own-goal had earlier cancelled out Lukas Provod's rocketed second-half opener before Conceicao announced himself on the international stage at the Leipzig Stadium.

    Roberto Martinez's team were the only side to win every qualifying game for this tournament, with a perfect 10 wins from as many matches, and dominated the first half of their opener without reward.

    Ronaldo almost marked his landmark appearance with a goal just eight minutes in but rushed an unmarked header in uncharacteristic fashion from Rafael Leao's whipped cross.

    Bruno Fernandes angled a deflected long-range effort narrowly over as the one-way traffic persisted, before the Manchester United midfielder's teasing ball just evaded the lunging Leao.

    Fernandes was again the architect when his delicate throughball found Ronaldo, who was denied by Jindrich Stanek's fantastic stop from point-blank range.

    The Czechia goalkeeper was on hand once more before the interval, parrying away another fizzing Ronaldo strike as these two sides were the first to be goalless at half-time at Euro 2024.

    Portugal completed 368 passes in that first-half onslaught, their most on record in a single half at the European Championships since records began in 1980, and little changed after the break.

    Ronaldo tested the hands of Stanek with a dipping free-kick just before the hour, though Portugal were stunned soon after when Provod cannoned into the top-left corner from the perimeter of Diogo Costa's area.

    Yet a response swiftly followed as Stanek parried Leao's downwards back-post header against Hranac, who could only deflect into his own net to level proceedings.

    Diogo Jota had a late finish ruled out by VAR after Ronaldo was adjudged offside before his rebounded strike, though Conceicao pounced from Pedro Neto's half-cleared left-wing cross to snatch all three points.

    Substitute heroics save Ronaldo's landmark appearance

    Ronaldo already holds the record for the most appearances in European Championship history (26), though this outing marked another historic moment for the 39-year-old.

    Having featured at every Euros since his 2004 debut, Ronaldo is the first to go to six editions of the tournament, where his 14 goals make him the leading scorer in history.

    The former Manchester United attacker could not add to his tally here, and it was a familiar tale at the Euros for Ronaldo, who missed the 2016 final victory over France after his gut-wrenching injury.

    Eder stepped up as the extra-time hero on that occasion, and he was the last Portugal substitute to score at the Euros before Conceicao did so here.

    Conceicao's goal came just 111 seconds after being introduced and marks the fastest such goal since Ferran Torres for Spain against Slovakia in June 2021 (41 seconds) – what an introduction for the Porto man.

    Czech need more from Schick

    Patrik Schick scored five of Czechia's six goals at Euro 2020, becoming only the second Czech player to be the sole or joint-top scorer at a European Championship tournament – after Milan Baros at the 2004 edition (five goals).

    The forward has since lifted the Bundesliga title with Bayer Leverkusen last term, helping Xabi Alonso's side to an unbeaten league season with seven top-flight goals.

    Considering his record at the Euros and the 2023-24 trophy-winning campaign, Czechia may want more from their star striker – who was withdrawn on the hour after being cautioned and failing to manage a single shot.

    Yet with or without Schick, Czechia could have never prepared for Conceicao's late intervention. Ivan Hasek's side have now lost five straight games against Portugal and must bounce back when they face Georgia on Saturday.

  • Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Seleaco on Ronaldo's landmark outing Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Seleaco on Ronaldo's landmark outing

    Francisco Conceicao proved the hero on his first competitive start for Portugal after his stoppage-time winner snatched a 2-1 victory over Czechia in their Euro 2024 opener.

    Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player in the European Championship's 64-year history to appear in six editions, but his landmark moment was overshadowed by a glimpse into Portugal's future.

    Conceicao was introduced after 90 minutes and scored just two minutes later, capitalising on a rebound to send Portugal level on points with leaders Turkiye, who beat Georgia 3-1 earlier on Tuesday in Group F.

    Robin Hranac's unavoidable own-goal had earlier cancelled out Lukas Provod's rocketed second-half opener before Conceicao announced himself on the international stage at the Leipzig Stadium.

    Roberto Martinez's team were the only side to win every qualifying game for this tournament, with a perfect 10 wins from as many matches, and dominated the first half of their opener without reward.

    Ronaldo almost marked his landmark appearance with a goal just eight minutes in but rushed an unmarked header in uncharacteristic fashion from Rafael Leao's whipped cross.

    Bruno Fernandes angled a deflected long-range effort narrowly over as the one-way traffic persisted, before the Manchester United midfielder's teasing ball just evaded the lunging Leao.

    Fernandes was again the architect when his delicate throughball found Ronaldo, who was denied by Jindrich Stanek's fantastic stop from point-blank range.

    The Czechia goalkeeper was on hand once more before the interval, parrying away another fizzing Ronaldo strike as these two sides were the first to be goalless at half-time at Euro 2024.

    Portugal completed 368 passes in that first-half onslaught, their most on record in a single half at the European Championships since records began in 1980, and little changed after the break.

    Ronaldo tested the hands of Stanek with a dipping free-kick just before the hour, though Portugal were stunned soon after when Provod cannoned into the top-left corner from the perimeter of Diogo Costa's area.

    Yet a response swiftly followed as Stanek parried Leao's downwards back-post header against Hranac, who could only deflect into his own net to level proceedings.

    Diogo Jota had a late finish ruled out by VAR after Ronaldo was adjudged offside before his rebounded finish, though Conceicao pounced from Pedro Neto's left-wing cross to snatch all three points.

    Substitute heroics save Ronaldo's landmark appearance

    Ronaldo already holds the record for the most appearances in European Championship history (26), though this outing marked another historic moment for the 39-year-old.

    Having featured at every Euros since his 2004 debut, Ronaldo is the first to go to six editions of the tournament, where his 14 goals make him the leading scorer in history.

    The former Manchester United attacker could not add to his tally here, and it was a familiar tale at the Euros for Ronaldo, who missed the 2016 final victory over France after his gut-wrenching injury.

    Eder stepped up as the extra-time hero on that occasion, and he was the last Portugal substitute to score at the Euros before Conceicao did so here.

    Conceicao's goal came just 111 seconds after being introduced and marks the fastest such goal since Ferran Torres for Spain against Slovakia in June 2021 (41 seconds) – what an introduction for the Porto man.

    Czech need more from Schick

    Patrik Schick scored five of Czechia's six goals at Euro 2020, becoming only the second Czech player to be the sole or joint-top scorer at a European Championship tournament – after Milan Baros at the 2004 edition (five goals).

    The forward has since lifted the Bundesliga title with Bayer Leverkusen last term, helping Xabi Alonso's side to an unbeaten league season with seven top-flight goals.

    Considering his record at the Euros and the 2023-24 trophy-winning campaign, Czechia may want more from their star striker – who was withdrawn on the hour after being cautioned and failing to manage a single shot.

    Yet with or without Schick, Czechia could have never prepared for Conceicao's late intervention. Ivan Hasek's side have now lost five straight games against Portugal and must bounce back when they face Georgia on Saturday.

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