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Not even LeBron James can save the hapless Lakers from themselves in humiliating loss to Celtics
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Not even LeBron James can save the hapless Lakers from themselves in humiliating loss to Celtics

The Lakers just cannot get out of their own way

Sports

When LeBron James entered the game for his final stretch on Friday, his Los Angeles Lakers trailed the Boston Celtics by 11 points. This was hardly his fault. He was the only Laker with a positive point-differential at that moment. His team had won his minutes by four points … but lost the ones he missed by 15. This is standard LeBron protocol after 19 years. No player in NBA history has done more to lift underperforming teammates than James. An 11-point road comeback is old hat for him at this point. But one player can only do so much.

Three minutes later, he left the game with the Lakers trailing by 19. All told, the Lakers managed to turn a 14-point lead into a 22-point defeat. Such collapses have become commonplace this season. The Lakers blew a 26-point lead to the Thunder mere weeks ago, but LeBron's return was supposed to prevent such embarrassments. James held up his end of the bargain. He managed to score 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting despite playing through an abdominal injury that just cost him eight games. But the Celtics helped expose a sobering truth about the team that he plays for, one that might never have been true for any other team for which he's played. Not even LeBron James can save the Lakers from themselves.

The 8-9 Lakers are the first James team to be below .500 through 17 games since his rookie 2003-04 Cleveland Cavaliers. James was obviously absent for many of those games, but the primary value of acquiring Russell Westbrook was to prevent this exact situation. The Lakers were supposed to have two superstars capable of carrying them when James sat. They didn't when he was hurt. They didn't when he needed rest Friday. Of course, they didn't really have a chance to. Frank Vogel's bizarre rotations continue to kneecap the Lakers at every turn.

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In James, Westbrook and Talen Horton-Tucker, the Lakers have three attackers at their best with the ball in their hands. Between the 3:54 and 1:56 marks of the first quarter, all three of them were on the bench while Rajon Rondo ran the offense. With Rondo on the floor this season, the Lakers have scored a paltry 97.2 points per 100 possessions. They predictably lost this stretch by two points. In the second quarter, he played a stretch with both James and Davis on the bench. The Lakers lost that one by another two points. These are inexcusable mistakes. Staggering is standard NBA procedure. It makes sense not to play minutes without at least one of your two best players on the floor. It makes sense to separate players with similar skill sets so you can make the most of what they bring to the table. The Lakers haven't done that.

They're not exactly making the most of their players even in the best alignments, though. Does it really make sense for James, Westbrook and Horton-Tucker to clear out while Avery Bradley works off of a dribble hand-off?