LeBron James believes it is beginning to come together for the Los Angeles Lakers after Saturday's 143-138 win over the San Antonio Spurs making it five wins in their past six games.

The Lakers started the season with five straight defeats following an offseason where Darvin Ham took over as head coach from Frank Vogel, after missing the playoffs in the 2021-22 campaign.

LA's latest run of results has seen them rally back to a 7-11 record, albeit sitting 13th in the Western Conference.

"I think we're more and more on a string," James told reporters after scoring a season-high 39 points against the Spurs on Saturday. "We're continuing to learn each other.

"As I said earlier in the season, we're a new group, with a new system, new coaching staff, trying to implement things on the fly. Our teaching moments was during games and unfortunately losing.

"It's just a sense of you're not really sure of each other, we don't know each other but I think over the last couple of weeks, we continue to learn one another, we continue to play some good ball, share ball."

Tempers flared in the third quarter of the game when Russell Westbrook was left bloodied after being struck on the forehead by a stray elbow from Zach Collins.

Westbrook fell to the ground after the blow and immediately got up in retaliation but was pulled away by James. Ham said James' actions showed the brotherhood of the team.

"You don’t want to escalate the situation, you want to try and calm him down," Ham said. "You've got a guy with blood all over his face who is understandably upset.

"Having Bron there shows a brotherhood that we need. That image, that action and that belief in one another, we need that to represent our team."

James not only pulled away Westbrook, who played on after receiving treatment, but helped apply a towel to stem the bleeding.

"I actually saw the cut right when it happened on the floor," James said. "As far as the foul, it was a tough blow obviously.

"I didn’t want it let Russ escalate it any further, especially with him bleeding like that. I just tried to step in there and diffuse it as much as possible."

LeBron James scored a season-high 39 points with seven three-pointers to lift the Los Angeles Lakers to their fifth win from their past six games, beating the San Antonio Spurs 143-138 on Saturday.

James, in his second game back from a groin injury, scored 23 of his 39 points in the second half, shooting seven-of-12 from beyond the arc along with having 11 rebounds and three assists. The four-time MVP's seven three-pointers was a joint career high.

The Lakers were without Anthony Davis due to a minor calf contusion, with guard Dennis Schroder contributing 21 points and six assists.

Russell Westbrook also came off the bench to add 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists, linking up with James to set up a one-handed dunk just before half-time.

Westbrook was left bloodied after he suffered a deep cut to his forehead in the third quarter after an elbow from Zach Collins but played on.

The win improved the Lakers' record to 7-11, while it consigned the Spurs to their eighth-straight defeat, slumping to 6-15 overall.

The Spurs' losing streak is their equal fourth worst in franchise history. Their worst is 13 straight from 1989.

Keldon Johnson top scored for San Antonio with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Tre Jones added 23 points with 13 assists.

DA and Booker lift Suns past Jazz

Deandre Ayton scored 29 points with 21 rebounds as the Phoenix Suns held off the Utah Jazz 123-122 for their fourth consecutive victory to improve to 13-6.

Devin Booker contributed 27 points on eight-of-27 field shooting, scoring 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, with 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Suns, who trailed by 10 at quarter-time. Nine of Ayton's 21 rebounds were offensive as he brought up a rare 20/20 double-double.

The Suns only managed six-of-22 from beyond the arc but the Jazz could not capitalise, giving up 12 turnovers. Jordan Clarkson top scored for Utah with 22 points.

Doncic's Mavs beaten by Raptors

The Dallas Mavericks lost their third straight game as Luka Doncic was kept to 24 points in a 105-100 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Raptors small forward O.G. Anunoby scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, top scoring alongside Fred VanVleet with 26, while Chris Boucher added a season-high 22 points with 13 rebounds.

NBA leading scorer Doncic shot eight-of-15 from the field and two-of-four from beyond the arc for the Mavs, with seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham did not hold back when discussing his side's poor performance in their 130-116 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday, calling their defense "inept at best".

The Jazz came out of the blocks on fire, putting up 40 points in the first quarter and another 35 in the second to lead 75-62 at halftime.

While the Lakers were able to muster a solid third period, winning the frame 33-25 and trimming the lead to 100-95 heading into the fourth quarter, they failed to keep that momentum up and gave up another 30 points in the last.

Utah's 130 points is the biggest score a team has put up against the Lakers this season, with no team managing more than the Golden State Warriors' total of 123 on opening night.

Speaking to the media after the loss, Ham said it was incredibly disappointing to see his team lose the momentum they have been trying to build as they entered the contest off back-to-back wins.

"We took a huge step backwards tonight," he said. "Giving up 75 points in the first half, giving them at least three 30-plus point quarters, we can't play like that.

"We were good during different small stretches, but the overall picture that was painted, by us defensively, sucks.

"That's got to be in your DNA, and it's a process to get it to be that way – where you want to defend at a high level night-in and night-out.

"It's not comfortable, but it's fun. It has to be fun, you have to enjoy getting stops and holding teams to one possession. Rebounding the ball, getting hits, whether you retrieve the ball or not.

"Just the little things of the game – keeping the ball in front of you, getting down in your stance, sprinting back in transition.

"Unfortunately we have a huge laundry list of things we can show them – that we're going to show them tomorrow.

"This is the first game where I felt like we really weren't there defensively."

When asked about any offensive struggles in the fourth quarter, Ham reinforced that this loss had nothing to do with that side of the ball.

"There's 60,000 points in our locker room, so I'm not worried about our offense," he said.

"We've got to defend. We scored enough points tonight to win a game, but our defense was inept at best."

One Lakers player who did perform well was Russell Westbrook, with the maligned former MVP actually drawing "M-V-P" chants from the home crowd at one point.

He finished with a team-high 26 points on nine-of-14 shooting, hitting three-of-five from long range while adding six assists and two steals, but he said the energy from his side was not there from the jump.

"They just started off playing a lot faster than us," he said. "[We were a] step slow, and it showed. We tried to pick it up in the second half, but we put ourselves in a bad position early."

The Lakers are now 2-6 through their first eight games, and will host the 7-1 Cleveland Cavaliers in their next fixture on Sunday.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham was almost brought to tears when speaking about Russell Westbrook buying in and delivering as a bench player after ending their winless start to the season.

Westbrook made a strong contribution for the Lakers, coming off the bench for the second straight game and playing 32 minutes with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Lakers won 121-110 over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday to end their five-game losing run.

The 2017 MVP shot six-of-12 from the field including two three-pointers, while he was perfect with four-of-four from the free-throw line.

Westbrook's new role under Ham, who took over from Frank Vogel in the off-season, comes after the point guard was the subject of widespread criticism for the Lakers missing the playoffs in his first year at the franchise last season.

"I'm so happy for him," Ham told reporters. "Last couple of games, Minnesota and tonight, he's been phenomenal. Nothing short of amazing. But I'm so happy. I can't even imagine what that kid is going through.

"One of the biggest things about me getting this job was for him to get that respect that he deserved because a lot of what went on last year was not his fault.

"And everything, all the blame was placed on him. I told him, 'man, just listen to me, believe in me bro. I'm gonna put you in a position to succeed with the group, but you have to put the group first. I can't be about me or I or mine. It's got to be us, ours, we'. And he's done that."

Westbrook, who had 18 points and eight rebounds against the Timberwolves on Friday, may not have started on Sunday but he played a key role down the stretch, with a lay-up and two free-throws in the final two minutes.

"Like I've mentioned since day one, whatever is needed from me to help the team win, that’s what I'll do," Westbrook said.

The win improved the Lakers, who were the last winless team in the NBA, to 1-5 having missed the playoffs last season with a 33-49 record.

"I just think guys got tired of going through the same motions through the last four, five games where we've been highly competitive," Ham said. "I saw a different type of focus… It's a part of the process.

"Tonight we needed to prove something to ourselves, not the world, not to the media. That felt great how we responded throughout the game."

LeBron James top scored with 26 points, while power forward Anthony Davis was exceptional with 23 points and 15 rebounds but appeared to labor with a back issue.

"It's day by day," Davis said. "One day I feel great, the next day [I don't]. Just try to manage it and keep getting treatment. I'm not going to let that stop me."

The Los Angeles Lakers ended their winless start to the season to move to a 1-5 record with a 121-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

LeBron James scored a game-high 26 points with six rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis excelled with 23 points and 15 rebounds, although he appeared to nurse a back injury late.

Russell Westbrook was solid again off the bench, adding 18 points on 50 per cent shooting with eight rebounds and eight assists. Westbrook scored four points in the final two minutes to see off any Nuggets' challenge.

The Lakers improved their three-point shooting, making 13-of-30 attempts at 43.3 per cent, while they also scored 48 points in the paint, taking advantage of the defensive limitations of the Nuggets' two-time MVP-winning center Nikola Jokic.

Jokic recorded a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds while Jamal Murray, who missed the 2021-22 campaign with a ruptured ACL, had his best scoring game of the season with 21 points.

The win ends the Lakers' five-game losing run to start the season. For Denver, the defeat means they are 1-3 on the road this season and 4-3 overall.

Warriors beaten by struggling Pistons

The Golden State Warriors had defensive issues again as they suffered back-to-back losses and fell to a 3-4 record after a 128-114 loss to the Detroit Pistons, who ended their own five-game losing run.

Last year's top NBA Draft selection Cade Cunningham was an assist short of a triple-double, contributing 23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Pistons dominated after quarter-time.

Stephen Curry scored 32 points on 10-of-24 shooting, while Jordan Poole added 30 with Klay Thompson rested. The Warriors, who have given up 120-or-more points in five of their past six games, only made 12-of-39 three-point attempts (31 per cent).

Doncic matches rare Jordan feat

Luka Doncic became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986 to score 30-or-more points in each of the first six games of the season as the Dallas Mavericks won 114-105 over the Orlando Magic.

The Slovenian point guard shot 17-of-26 from the field for 44 points with three rebounds and five assists. Doncic scored 30 of his 44 points in the first half.

Top 2022 NBA Draft pick Pablo Banchero failed to reach 20 points for the first time in his career, scoring 18 on six-of-20 shooting for the Magic.

LeBron James has vowed to take a more aggressive approach after the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to 0-4 with a defeat to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.

Denver kept the Lakers waiting for their first win of the season with a 110-99 victory at Ball Arena, improving to 3-2.

Los Angeles are languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference but will get another chance to get up and running when they face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

Lakers superstar James was 8-for-21 shooting, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

The four-time NBA champion and MVP is not concerned by posting such low numbers by his high standards.

"I wasn't aggressive enough in a lot of my turnovers," James said. "I was coming off a lot of screens, looking to pass, get guys involved, and I wasn't aggressive enough."

He added: "That's an easy fix for me. I'll be much better on Friday with that. I've done it over and over the course of my career. That's an easy fix. I'm not worried about that."

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham is confident the Los Angeles Lakers will turn the corner.

"We're four games in, it sucks to lose, but having 78 games left, there's plenty of time for us to right the ship, and it starts now," Ham said. "It starts yesterday."

Anthony Davis top scored for the Lakers with 22 points in a game that Russell Westbrook missed due to left-hamstring soreness.

James said of Westbrook's absence: "Russ, definitely dealing with a hamstring. I played with [Dwyane] Wade. And I don't know how, but you just have to be cool with all that.

"You can't force it until that thing is ready to go. You've got to be very conscious of that."

Anthony Davis has rallied around maligned Los Angeles Lakers teammate Russell Westbrook, who has been listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets due to left hamstring soreness.

Westbrook exited the Lakers' final preseason game against the Sacramento Kings 11 days ago after only five minutes due to a hamstring issue. 

The 33-year-old nine-time All-Star has played all three of the Lakers' games this season since, but has been the subject of significant criticism, the latest for taking on and missing a midrange shot late in Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham declined to elaborate on his likely line-up for the Nuggets game, as they look to snap an 0-3 start to the season.

Westbrook's status was disclosed by the Lakers after Ham spoke to reporters, while the former MVP was not made available either.

The Lakers point guard is averaging 10.3 points shooting at 28.9 per cent from the field with 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game across three games this season.

Davis, who has started this season impressively despite the Lakers' winless start, leapt to the defence of Westbrook who has copped the brunt of the criticism directed at the team.

"I mean, it's crazy," Davis said. "People are forgetting who Russ is… I can't imagine how tough it is for him. It's something you guys have to ask him.

"But just as a team, as an organisation, we're just trying to be there for him and just keep supporting him and make sure that he doesn't get caught up in it, because that's when things can go bad for him. We want to make sure that he's continuously in a great space.

"He was all smiles today, which is a good thing. We want to make sure that no matter what, he knows we're on his side and we have his back. And whatever he needs from us, we're right here, on and off the court."

The Lakers' winless start to the season comes after missing the playoffs in 2021-22 with a 33-49 record.

"Obviously, there's some sense of urgency," Davis added. "You don't want to dig yourself too big of a hole. But we've got to stay even-keeled.

"We can't get rattled or flustered and things like that. Just like if we win 12 in a row, we don't want to get too high.

"We think all this adversity is going to be good for us. We're glad it's happening in October and not March or April."

Stephen Curry led the way as the Golden State Warriors scored a franchise-record 50 second-quarter points in Sunday's 130-125 win over the Sacramento Kings at Chase Center.

The reigning NBA champions were dominant offensively, with their third most points in any half in franchise history as they opened up an 89-71 half-time lead, with Curry scoring 28 in the first half.

The Warriors fell just short of their franchise record of 92 for any half, from 2018 against the Chicago Bulls. It was Golden State's second most points in a first half.

The second quarter was their seventh ever with 50-or-more points, equaling their third most of any period.

Curry finished the game with 33 points, recording his third straight 30-point performance, marking the second time in his career he has done that to start a season. The reigning NBA Finals MVP made seven-of-12 from three-point range, with five of those coming in the second quarter.

The Kings never gave up and cut the margin to four points with 1:04 remaining but Golden State closed it with Andrew Wiggins capping it off with 24 points.

The Warriors shot at 51.7 per cent from the field, along with 42.4 per cent from beyond the arc, making 14-of-33 attempts.

Late Lakers woes prove costly

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to an 0-3 record after poor late execution saw them lose 106-104 to the Portland Trail Blazers, with four-time MVP LeBron James missing a two-point shot on the buzzer.

The Lakers missed four of their final five shots of the game, after Damian Lillard's triple put the Blazers ahead after trailing by seven points with 1:56 remaining. Lillard finished with a game-high 41 points.

James finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis added 22 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, but the Lakers' late execution and three-point shooting cost them, going at 18.2 per cent from beyond the arc as a team.

Russell Westbrook contributed 10 points on four-of-15 shooting with six rebounds and six assists but was benched with 12 seconds remaining with the game up for grabs.

CP3 joins elite assists club

Chris Paul became the third player in NBA history to reach 11,000 assists, providing 11 in the Phoenix Suns' 112-95 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Devin Booker top scored with 35 points with 13-of-21 shooting from the field and five-of-nine from beyond the arc as the Suns led from wire to wire.

Paul brought up his 11,000th assist with his second of the game, an alley-oop pass for Deandre Ayton, joining John Stockton and Jason Kidd in the elite club.

Kawhi Leonard started on the bench again for the Clippers, playing 21 minutes for 11 points with six rebounds and two assists.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham says he cannot afford to waste any time managing players' feelings after benching Russell Westbrook late as they slumped to an 0-3 start on Sunday.

The Lakers surrendered a seven-point lead with 1:56 left, losing 106-104 to the Portland Trail Blazers at Crypto.com Arena, following up defeats to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James had a two-point attempt rim out on the buzzer as they missed four of their final five shots in the last two minutes.

Leading 102-101, Westbrook missed a 15-foot pull-up jumper with 27.3 seconds remaining in the game and 18 seconds left on the shot clock. He was then sent to the bench after Damian Lillard drained a three-point to put the Blazers ahead.

"We don't have time for feelings or people being in their feelings. Like, we're trying to turn this thing around," Ham told reporters. "For one person to be in their feelings about when and where and how they should be in the game, I don't have any time for that."

Westbrook finished with 10 points on four-of-15 shooting, adding six rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes, with no turnovers, having given away four in their opening loss to Golden State.

Ham was critical of Westbrook's shot location rather than his decision to take on his jumper with 27.3 seconds left trying to execute a two-for-one, to ensure two offensive possessions in the final moments.

"I just wish we would've attacked the rim directly," Ham said. "That's the one shot that teams want you to take and want to give up – long twos, contested twos.

"With his ability to explode and get to the basket still being at a high level, I wish he would've did that. Especially with Nurkic standing back there with five fouls… shot selection is something we have to work on."

James would not be drawn on Westbrook, proactively calling out reporters for their line of questioning on the nine-time All-Star, who has started the season averaging 10.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game.

"I feel like this is an interview of trying to set me up to say something," James said. "I can tell that you guys are in the whole Russell Westbrook category right now. I don't like to lose. I hate to lose at anything.

"I don't care what happens throughout the course of my season or throughout the course of my career, I hate to lose. And especially the way we had this game. But give credit to Portland.

"You guys can write about Russ and all the things you want to try to talk about Russ, but I'm not up here to do that. I won't do it. I've said it over and over. That's not who I am."

James finished with 31 points on 12-of-22 field shooting, with eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks, while Anthony Davis scored 22 points with 10 rebounds, two steals and six blocks.

The Lakers' woes from beyond the arc plagued them again, shooting six-of-33 from three-point range.

Kawhi Leonard scored 14 points with seven rebounds as he returned for the first time in 16 months in the Los Angeles Clippers' thrilling 103-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Leonard, who missed all of last season after sustaining an ACL injury in the 2021 playoffs, played 21 minutes off the bench, shooting six-of-12 from the field, including a crucial two-pointer with under two minutes left at Crypto.com Arena.

The Lakers had hit the lead in the last quarter after LeBron James' block on Paul George set up Lonnie Walker IV's jam, but the Clippers were clutch down the stretch to extend their winning streak over their rivals to eight games.

The Clippers' current eight-game winning run over the Lakers is the second-longest in franchise history, behind 11 from 2014 to 2016.

James, in his 20th season in the NBA, scored 20 points with 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, while Anthony Davis was exceptional with 25 points including two triples and eight rebounds.

But the three-point issues that plagued the Lakers last season reared their head again, going at 20 per cent from beyond the arc as a team. The Lakers' two-game three-point percentage of 22 per cent this season is the worst by any team through two games in NBA history (minimum 60 attempts).

Russell Westbrook was a major culprit, managing only two points in 27 minutes, shooting none-of-11 from the field and none-of-six from beyond the arc.

Giannis in top form as Bucks open with 76ers win  

The Philadelphia 76ers lost for the second straight game to open the season after James Harden missed a floater off the glass on their last offensive play in a 90-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 76ers were booed by their fans at Wells Fargo Center in the third quarter, before rallying with a 13-0 run in the fourth, led by Harden who had eight points during that span, finishing with 31 for the game, along with eight rebounds and nine rebounds.

But Harden, who went one-for-seven from three-point range, missed his late chance straight after Wesley Matthews' triple as the Bucks won their season opener.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was in MVP form, having 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the first half, finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists with three blocks. Joel Embiid was kept scoreless in the second half, to have only 15 points with 12 rebounds for the game.

Russell Westbrook believes his hamstring injury in the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason finale could have been caused by his different role coming off the bench.

Westbrook started on the bench in Friday's preseason defeat to the Sacramento Kings but played just five minutes before coming off due to a concern with his left hamstring.

The 2017 NBA MVP recovered from his knock and returned to the starting lineup for his side's 123-109 loss to the Golden State Warriors in their NBA season opener on Tuesday.

And when asked whether his bench role against Sacramento played a role in his injury, he said: "Absolutely - I've been doing the same thing for 14 years straight.

"Honestly, I didn't even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. That's something I just wasn't accustomed to."

Coach Darvin Ham suggested in preseason that Westbrook may be used from the bench as part of a different strategy following their hugely disappointing campaign last year.
 
The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record despite boasting stars payers such as Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Westbrook's start on Tuesday, the 1,005th time in 1,022 career games that he had played with the first unit, proved futile with reigning champions the Warriors winning comfortably.

Speaking on Westbrook's starting role after the game, Ham said: "You want to start the game off the right way in terms of your energy and being in attack mode, and no one better than him [Westbrook].

"I thought he was solid. A couple possessions I wish I can get back, but overall, I thought he was solid."

Westbrook finished up with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes on court.

The Lakers face city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday as they look for their first win of the season.

Anthony Davis declared the Los Angeles Lakers can banish sorry memories of the previous two seasons by roaring back to past glories in the new campaign.

The Lakers, NBA champions in 2020, lost in the first round of the 2021 playoffs before trailing in 11th in the Western Conference last term with a 33-49 record, missing out on the postseason.

Considering their star-studded squad, those were underwhelming performances, but this year Davis says the story can change. He is talking about championships again.

"We're motivated to get back to where we belong," Davis said.

"The last two seasons were not what we envisioned. It was not Lakers basketball and we know that, not what our organisation's standard is."

Coach Frank Vogel was sacked in April and Darvin Ham has come in, charged with getting the best out of a roster that, along with Davis, features the likes of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

The star trio are listed as probable for Tuesday's season-opening game against last season's champions, the Golden State Warriors, at Chase Center.

Westbrook has been waylaid by a hamstring injury, and it remains to be seen how Ham uses him, if fit. He appears set for a reserve role, initially.

If the Lakers needed any reminder about their 2021-22 failings, it will come when the Warriors collect their championship rings, with the Los Angeles players knowing they simply were not a factor last time out.

After losing five of six warm-up games, the Lakers will know they cannot let that form drip into the new campaign.

Davis said: "Our standard is to compete for championships, and in the last two seasons we have not. So, it's motivation and hunger from every guy on the floor, everybody in the locker room, all the coaches, the front office, to make sure that we get back to that level of basketball that we know we can play at."

Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook has rubbished suggestions he is in dispute with his team-mates following viral footage that appeared to show him intentionally distancing himself from them.

Video captured in a preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves showed the 33-year-old splitting from the rest of his team during a huddle, while he eschewed a later one.

After a difficult first season in LA as the Lakers missed the playoffs and Westbrook's performances were the subject of scrutiny, questions were raised as to whether there was discord in the ranks even before the start of the new campaign.

But Westbrook responded: "Pre-game, I've been doing that since I've been in the league for years, man.

"I think they just cut the video, and obviously the internet is going to take it and run with whatever they need to run with.

"But I've been doing the same ritual since I've been in the league. As far as the other video, I was actually talking to the coaches and they cut that video in half as well.

"Honestly I'm just trying to compete and do my job. Everything, videos get nitpicked. You can cut any video and make anything you want out of it. It's not up to me to be able to judge that.

"I know I'm a genuine team player. I've never had a problem being with my team-mates, so I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing."

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.

The NBA is back, which means excitement for most fanbases – but anxiety for others.

The new season should ensure a clean slate for everyone, but some situations have been allowed to fester in recent months without the distraction of on-court action.

Now, even with basketball returning, developments around Kevin Durant's future might prove every bit as intriguing to the neutral as anything that happens in the regular season.

And Durant and the Brooklyn Nets are not the only player-team combo in a tricky spot heading into the year...

Everyone at the Lakers

Before considering the wide-ranging implications of Durant's trade request, let's check in on last year's team in crisis.

Plenty of outsiders could have forecast difficulties for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2021-22, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis joined in a 'big three' by Russell Westbrook – at this stage in his career, consistent only in using up a huge number of possessions.

Westbrook had averaged a usage rate above 30 per cent in every season between 2014-15 and 2020-21, with his average over the seven seasons (34.6 per cent) only narrowly trailing James Harden's league-leading 34.7 per cent (minimum 500 possessions). A ball-dominant player on often mediocre teams, Westbrook's winning percentage of 59.2 ranked 109th over this period among those to play 100 or more games. Harden (66.2) was a far more respectable 29th.

Although his usage dipped to 27.5 per cent around better players in LA, Westbrook remained every bit as erratic as expected and, unfortunately for the Lakers, played more than 500 more minutes than any team-mate – comfortably ahead of an ageing James and bulkier Davis.

The three superstars started just 21 games together and even then only scraped a winning record at 11-10.

Having missed the playoffs – and even the play-in – in 11th in the West, the Lakers fired coach Frank Vogel, perhaps optimistically hoping he alone was the problem, and brought back each of James, Davis and Westbrook.

Seemingly determined to further upset a team who won the title just two years ago, the Lakers were also linked with a move for Kyrie Irving before settling instead on Patrick Beverley, who might prove only marginally less disruptive.

Westbrook and Beverley have repeatedly clashed in the past, although the new Lakers signing has described his team-mate as "someone I always wanted to play with", praising his "competitive spirit, that fire, that will, that dog, that nastiness, that grit".

New coach Darvin Ham thinks the pair can work together, but the potential for fireworks is considerable even before taking into account James' own "competitive spirit".

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the Nets

The 2019 free agency moves for Durant and Irving certainly made the Nets relevant. But they haven't yet made them successful. And right now, Brooklyn might be the most explosive environment in the NBA.

Durant missed their first year together with an Achilles injury sustained playing for the Golden State Warriors, yet the Nets have still only won seven playoff games in the past three postseasons – all seven of those wins coming in a short-lived 2020-21 run.

Last season, as they had been in their first season with Durant and Irving, Brooklyn were swept in the first round. It concluded a miserable campaign that was not about to get better in the offseason.

With Irving unvaccinated and so unable to play in New York City until March, he and Durant started only 17 games together in the regular season. The Nets had started the season with their own 'big three', but Harden – much to his frustration – appeared just twice alongside the star pairing before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons came in the other direction and did not play once.

Far from a happy camp, when Irving then opted in to the final year of his contract in late June, the Nets were vulnerable to a trade request from Durant, which quickly followed.

However, with four years remaining on his own deal and Brooklyn asking for a huge price in trade talks, it was reported Durant had returned to the Nets and promised to stay if head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks were replaced.

Ultimately, Durant "agreed to move forward with our partnership" – as Marks phrased it – regardless, with Nash saying in September his relationship with the superstar was "good".

"I love the guy," added Nash, who understood Durant being "seething" at the end of the season. "Families have issues. We had a moment, and it's behind us. That's what happens."

In theory – especially if Simmons can return to his two-time All-Defensive First Team best – the Nets could have a great team in 2022-23.

Yet based on how this project has gone so far, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Brooklyn endure another desperately disappointing season and are again left attempting to convince Durant to stay.

James Harden at the 76ers

The 76ers moved one miserable superstar in Simmons for another in Harden, which was only enough to take them as far as the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year.

And en route to that unsatisfactory conclusion, team-mate Joel Embiid was not shy in criticising Harden, repeatedly calling on him to be more aggressive while recognising he is no longer "the Houston James Harden".

It was an understandable complaint; Harden attempted only 13.6 field goals per game for the Sixers in the regular season – little more than half the number of shots he was taking in 2018-19 for the Houston Rockets (24.5), when he scored a career-high 36.1 points per game. He was also only making 40.2 per cent of his field goal attempts in Philly, down on every other season in his career.

So far, it is fair to say this has not worked. Doc Rivers, in a training camp clip published by the NBA, told Harden he and Embiid needed to "listen to each other" and acknowledged the partnership needed work as it was "unnatural".

Echoing some of Embiid's complaints, coach Rivers said: "You can't just say you're a facilitator. I need you to be a scorer and a facilitator."

Rivers for now believes it can still be fixed. "When it clicks, James, we're going to be unbeatable," he told a player who, for his part, agreed to a restructured contract that allowed Philly to bolster their roster in the offseason.

But this team – and certainly Embiid – might argue more help would not be required if Harden played in the manner he is capable.

"We've got to establish Joel and you – it's a pecking order," added Rivers. "This ain't a democracy."

Embiid may not believe this is "the Houston James Harden", but the team and Harden himself seemingly do, with the former Rocket announcing: "If my conditioning can be level with my skill set and my IQ and the work that I put in, it's MVP – and I feel like my conditioning is where it needs to be."

Harden needs to start showing that, or this time his team might tire of him, rather than the other way around.

Jaylen Brown at the Celtics

Little has gone to plan for the Boston Celtics since winning Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Finals, as they lost the next three to the Warriors and then saw preparations for a bounce-back season in 2022-23 rocked by a number of key absences.

Boston will begin the year without new signing Danilo Gallinari, who tore his ACL playing for Italy, Robert Williams, who has also undergone knee surgery, and, crucially, coach Ime Udoka.

Udoka had turned around his first season as a head coach spectacularly, with the Celtics tied for ninth in the East at the turn of the year after a 17-19 start before leading the conference the rest of the way (34-12) to take the second seed.

But a year-long suspension for Udoka "for violations of team policies" was announced by the team last month.

And even between the ultimately disappointing postseason and repeatedly disrupted preseason, not everything was rosy, with Boston also impacted by the Durant saga.

When Durant looked to be on the move, reports claimed the Celtics had offered the Nets a package that included Jaylen Brown. That trade did not materialise, of course, but it is difficult to imagine Brown was too impressed.

In recent seasons, Brown has been hugely valuable to the Celtics – not least because he is being paid below his value.

Brown is one of only 11 players who has scored at least 1,400 points at an average of at least 23.5 per game in each of the past two seasons. Of the other 10, four have current or future contracts with an average annual value of more than $50m, another four are being paid over $40m per year, and the final two are bringing in a salary in excess of $30m a season.

Brown's deal, which ranks outside the top 50 contracts in the NBA in both total value and average annual value, earns him $26.6m each year.

And the rules around NBA extensions will prevent Brown being paid on par with his contemporaries unless he makes All-NBA in one of the two seasons remaining on his contract.

In theory, that carrot should encourage Brown to enjoy another big season, but at a franchise as fractured as the Celtics have suddenly become, focus could understandably drift instead towards free agency in 2024.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the Thunder

Unlike the other teams on this list, the Oklahoma City Thunder do not have the pressure of needing to win now – but that is part of the problem.

OKC moved on their ageing stars, loaded up on draft picks and put together a young core that includes Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That is all very exciting... or at least it will be.

Rookie Holmgren is down for the year, seemingly making this another season in which the Thunder will lose games and then see what they can do in the draft.

That is no great issue for 20-year-old Holmgren or 19-year-old Giddey, but it does not suit Gilgeous-Alexander, now 24 and entering his fifth year, quite so much – even if he also starts the year injured.

Among the 63 players to score 2,000 or more points across the past two seasons combined, Gilgeous-Alexander ranked 18th for points per game (24.2). He ranked 61st for wins (32).

This is not a case of an average player stat-padding on a bad team; he is simply too good to be in this situation.

And having agreed a five-year extension in August ahead of Holmgren's injury, it appeared Gilgeous-Alexander had unknowingly signed up for more of the same.

He disagrees, insisting: "I know what I signed up for when I signed a five-year extension. I don't think we're going to be losing for much longer. It's not like I signed up to lose."

But lose they will, if they have any sense – and past experience suggests they do.

Without Holmgren, the Thunder are not going to be in any position to seriously compete, which opens up the possibility to pick high in a draft that includes a potentially generational talent in Victor Wembanyama.

At some stage, OKC will be ready, but that is not now, and Gilgeous-Alexander could be forgiven for finding his patience waning.

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