Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Andre Drummond. Only the starting five was already a victory for the Lakers, with an early alley oop from LeBron to Davis as image of everything that was expected as constant and that, in the end, has been a delicacy whose value has increased exponentially due to the lack of supply. Respectively, this season the two stars have missed 27 and 36 games. Today, they have come to the rescue of a team that, without them, had been able to carry out the last matches; but sweating. Vogel did not want surprises, although they would threaten for much of the game: 108-111 on the scoreboard with two and a half minutes left attest to this. At stake, was to maintain the options to abandon the play-in positions; ahead, some Pacers who, if they lost, were condemned to play the qualifying tournament as tenth classified, that is to say, needing two victories. It is difficult to remember a campaign with so much at stake in the last day of the regular season. Play-in, new times. With the final 115-122, both things are certified. And despite the loss, in Indiana, the “new” qualifying tournament will be greeted like holy water.
From now on, weights and counterweights on a scale that, from different points, will try to decant with different levels of Machiavellianism. Almost all those involved, with more or less options, pursue the same goal, the ring; but the chosen means may be different. The Lakers maintain options to exit the play-in positions. To do this, they must win their next game, in which the easy part of the equation is supposed, and wait for the Portland Trail Blazers to lose to the Denver Nuggets tomorrow. The first unknown should not be difficult to clear: the Angelenos will face some Pelicans already banished from the playoff and without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball. Portland, on the other hand, to some Nuggets who, in those Machiavellian thoughts, can be tempted by voluntary defeat. Currently, Colorado’s are third in the West, with the same record as the Clppers, fourth. If the Angelenos do their homework, their victory would lead to a direct confrontation between the two teams in the first round, unappetizing. Both the Nuggets and Clippers, a priori, wish they did not meet the current champions until a hypothetical conference final.
In the current circumstances, of course, with all the stars dressed in purple and gold. Like today, although in white. Opposite situation in the Pacers, by the way, that in this month of May they have not been able to count on Malcolm Brogdon and that, this time, they could not do it with Domantas Sabonis either, with a blow to the left quadriceps of the last game, against Milwaukee Bucks. The Lakers hadn’t won at the Indiana pavilion since 2013, but it was a day of casualties (damn injuries) on one side and comebacks on the other. And what returns. 17 points and 5 rebounds for Davis in the first quarter (his highest scoring period of the season) warned of this. At the end of it, which he played in full, attention to his shoulder. We must take care of it. LeBron, meanwhile, at the controls, with 5 assists in seven minutes. The defense, his only weakness, surely allowing more points than desired. Mainly, Caris LeVert (28 + 5 + 12) and JaKarr Sampson (20 + 3 + 1), who exceeded twenty points for the first time in the entire course. Also joining the resistance were Doug McDermott (17 + 4 + 1) and Justin Holiday (12 + 3 + 1), but not enough overall.
LeBron is decisive in his return
On his return, delayed more than necessary, LeBron James entered the game being what he is: king and, therefore, leader. There were doubts about his possible physical condition. Not at all unfounded, he himself has reiterated that he will no longer be the same. He started being so: in his first two actions, a basket after clarification and an assist for a triple from Schröder. Moments later, he swapped the papers, with an alley oop from the German for James that ended with one of those contest dunks that, over the years, the four-time MVP has turned into a daily routine. A 2 + 1, with a change of pace without a trace of physical problems, allowed a partial of 4 to 10 to be culminated in the second quarter, to catch a breath that was not fully retained (56-64 at halftime). At the moment of fear, two and a half minutes from the end and with 108-111 on the scoreboard, seven points in a row (110-118). Decisive, as expected. He was seen to lack rhythm in some actions, with 4 losses as a witness, but he has returned.
And Vogel hopes to polish it on the fast track. Before the game, he assured that he would try to keep the theoretical headlines as long as possible on the track. The gears have been separated for much longer than expected and, facing the defense of the title, it is time to grease at forced marches. Andre Drummond, today with 11 points and 15 rebounds, must continue to internalize the tactical mechanisms, and Schröder (12 + 1 + 4), who returned after leaving the health protocols and with ups and downs throughout the season, has in the memory of the fans a memory difficult to reissue: the playoffs of Rajon Rondo. The thing about LeBron (24 + 7 + 8) and Davis (28 + 10 + 5) is only a matter of time.
Without them, it is not the same. At the beginning of the second quarter, with the second unit on the track, the distance was reduced like water in a cracked container, 38-40 with eight minutes remaining. The return of LeBron, as a micro-story of the history of the season, seemed to remedy it, but three actions in a row by LeVert, two of them triple, momentarily denied (it would end up being) the perfect metaphor (46-49). Bless your points, by the way. If his return, after everything that happened, was tremendous news, his form is incredible. With the headlines, right now, it is not easy either. Very bad decisions in the last attacks, led by LeBron, put more fear than they should in the bodies that today wore white: a maximum advantage of 14 points was wasted to arrive with that very tight score at the end. A slippery chasm that, when James is around, becomes much safer. It has arrived, tomorrow it will be known if in time.