SPORT DIGEST: Lakers put it together in win over Celtics

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

That’s want it’s supposed to look like.

For maybe the first time all season, the Lakers played the game their fans have been dying to see Dec. 7.

Hosting the hated Boston Celtics, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis showed they could actually all contribute in the same game in the Lakers 117-102 win.

James led the way with 30 points. Westbrook added 24 points with 11 assists and Davis scored 17 while pulling down 16 rebounds. Talen Horton-Tucker scored 12 points in a starting role and Malik Monk added 10 off the bench as the Lakers moved into a tie for fifth place with the Los Angeles Clippers in the early Western Conference standings.

Still, they are barely at .500 with a 13-12 record.

Part of that can be attributed to the absence of James, who has missed 12 of the first 25 games. It’s hard for the team to gel when its most important player is in and out of the lineup like James has been this season.

The Russell Westbrook experiment is still a work in progress. He is averaging 20.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists a game while leading the team in turnovers at 4.6 a game.

He and James — both ball-dominant players — are still learning how to play together. It can only get better over the last five months. In the meantime, the Lakers need to figure out how to light a fire under their superstar, Anthony Davis.

Davis actually started at center against the Celtics, although he prefers playing power forward, which allows him to roam along the three-point line shooting jump shots.

But Davis is one of the best big men in the NBA and the Lakers need him to be more of an inside presence, protecting the rim on defense, grabbing rebounds at both ends of the court and providing a third scoring option with James and Westbrook.

He is averaging 24.1 points and 10.3 rebounds a game, solid stats but not $35 million a year numbers.

The win over the Celtics may have silenced the fire-Frank-Vogel talk that can be found on social media. Vogel actually is doing a fine job holding the Lakers together so far.

The Lakers main problem is they are OLD. Nine of the 17 players on their roster have more than 10 years experience in the NBA. Five have more than 15 years of experience.

The trade that brought Westbrook from Washington cost the Lakers Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two key players on the team that won the 2010 NBA Championship in the Orlando, Florida, bubble. Alex Caruso, another key player on that team, left in free agency to the Chicago Bulls.

Those relatively young players have been replaced by old warriors like Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley who have been around for 18, 17 and 11 years, respectively.

Anthony is fulfilling his role well so far. He is coming off the bench to score an average of 14 points a game, fourth best on the team, but at 37, he no longer rebounds like he used to and defense was never a part of his game.

Howard averages five points and five rebounds a game in 14 minutes of action, which isn’t bad for a 36-year-old backup center.

Bradley, who has started at shooting guard in 17 of the 22 games he has played in, is best known for his defensive prowess. He averages only five points a game.

The Lakers are expecting some help when Trevor Ariza returns to the active roster after recovering from an ankle injury, but another injured player, Kendrick Nunn, won’t return till at least January with a bruised knee.

By that time, Monk may have slid past Bradley into the shooting guard starting slot. Monk is averaging 10.3 points off the bench while hitting 37% of his shots from three-point range.

Plenty of time remains for the Lakers to find themselves. The win over the Celtics was a good place to start.

BACK TO FOOTBALL: With five games remaining in the season, the games are all crucial now, but the Rams really need a win this week when they face the Arizona Cardinals Dec. 13 on Monday Night Football in Glendale, Arizona.

The Rams currently trail the Cardinals by two games in the NFC Western Conference. A second loss to the Cardinals would put the Rams three games back with four games left, a wild-card sentence if ever there was one.

The rest of the Rams’ schedule is no picnic with games remaining against the Seattle Seahawks, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. When Russell Wilson and the Seahawks is the easiest game you have left, you have a rough schedule.

That’s why the Rams needed a big win Dec. 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 37-7 victory snapped a three-game losing streak.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford ended his November slump by completing 26 of 38 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. He threw no interceptions after throwing five, including three pick sixes, during the losing streak.

Cooper Kupp continued his all-pro season with eight catches for 129 yards and one of the touchdowns and Stafford hooked up with Odell Beckham Jr. for a scoring play for the second game in a row.

Defensively, the Rams held the Jaguars to 197 total yards and turned the ball over twice on fumble recoveries.

Of course, the Jaguars, at 2-10, are one of the worst teams in the league.

Still, this was a much-needed victory for the Rams, who were once 7-1. They need to assert themselves in Arizona this week to make the Western Conference race interesting in the final four weeks.

The Chargers also had a big win Dec. 5, but this is no time for them to overlook the upcoming New York Giants, who are coming to SoFi Stadium Dec. 12. At 4-8, the Giants should be easy pickings for the 7-5 Chargers, but nothing is ever easy in the NFL.

Last week’s win over the Bengals proved that. The Chargers jumped out to 24-0 lead five minutes into the second quarter only to see the Bengals respond with 22 straight points in the second and third quarters to make it a 24-22 game.

The Chargers defense then turned the game around early in the fourth quarter when defensive back Tevaughn Campbell scooped up a fumble by Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown.

Three minutes later, the Chargers offense added another score and the rout was back on.

The Chargers would be wise not to have another in-game letup against the Giants this week.

At 7-5, the Chargers are a game behind division leader Kansas City, who they face Dec. 16 in a Thursday night game. After the Chiefs, the Chargers finish with the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.

The Chargers are firmly entrenched in a wild card slot in the AFC. A win over the Chiefs could place them in a tie for the division lead. But only if they donlt overlook the Giants this week.

 

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