The night always starts out the same, the highlights of the Lakers’ stellar past are projected onto a huge white sheet before it hits the floor.
It seemed, however, that a gigantic shoe might have followed this lowering of the curtain.
Under normal circumstances, a visit from one of the worst teams in the NBA will not create a sense of dread. But the Lakers have been far from sane this season, a team capable of talking about 10 winning streaks with a deadpan air despite having barely won 10 of their first 21 games.
No, the moments before entering the Lakers’ home arena are more tense, another vile performance brings the team closer to dramatic changes.
The Lakers dodged disaster, albeit with difficulty, by beating the Pistons 110-106 in a game they led 19 Sunday night.
The crowd howled as streamers fell and Randy Newman pounded on the keys, but it felt more like a short breath than a celebration.
The stakes shouldn’t seem so high for at least a month before Christmas, but with the Lakers struggling in the first quarter of the season, every 48 minutes seems like a referendum on the team’s chances of a championship.
With league insiders chatting about Frank Vogel’s job safety, nights like Sunday when the crew is expected to cruise can be scariest.
“When they don’t perform at a high enough level, you challenge them,” Vogel said before the game. “We challenged them again, they still have to be encouraged to play at a higher level.”
In their longest stretch of the season, the Lakers did just that with 16 straight points in the third quarter, turning potential disappointment into a desperately needed double-digit lead. But the season doesn’t save overnight, and the Lakers are definitely not on Sunday.
Another disappointment in the fourth quarter saw their 19-point lead drop to three in the final seconds before the Pistons were out of time for a comeback.
The win came with a lot of preview attention focused on how the two teams would react to the scuffle on the court a week ago Sunday in Detroit.
After James punched Detroit center Isaiah Stewart in the face while fighting for a rebound position, Stewart stormed James and the Lakers repeatedly, blood trickling down his face. Both players were eliminated and then suspended.
James has repeatedly stated that the play was unintentional, and Stewart said that he believed it was intentional.
Before the game, neither Vogel nor Detroit coach Duane Casey said they were concerned about any spillover effects. And apart from Stewart’s rather strong grins, there really was nothing.
Davis, who was one of the worst jumping shooters in the NBA this season, hit the basket before making his first three-pointer. Davis will also be home for a second.
In the previous six games, he has made just one triple, and in the pre-Sunday season he scored just 16.7%.
“He’s just in a slight slump. I love the pictures he takes, ”Vogel said. “… We want him to attack the basket. But his jump shot will definitely happen, so we are comfortable with it. “
He and James also hit it off on one of the season’s highlights, when Davis landed a behind-the-scenes punch that pushed the Pistons into time out while James raised his hands in the air to urge the crowd to shower the Lakers with praise.
Much of this season, they were greeted with undeserved applause as the Lakers are struggling against those they play for, including teams like the Pistons with four wins.
The Lakers stars did their part on Sunday. After a game in which James said he was “terrible,” he led the Lakers with 33 points on 12 of 20 shots. He also had nine assists, five rebounds and only two withdrawals.
Russell Westbrook’s four free-kicks and several defensive missteps were the only real misses in the all-around, which ended with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds. And Davis’s internal superiority and accurate shooting earned him 24 points and 10 rebounds, all on the defensive.
Their play, coupled with DeAndre Jordan’s good stretch (Dwight Howard was a healthy scratch) helped the Lakers survive the night of Carmelo Anthony’s seven shots and Avery Bradley’s five.
Jerami Grant scored 32 and the Pistons outscored the Lakers 42-19, but the Lakers were able to hold out.
The Lakers will face the Kings on Tuesday in Sacramento, another night when the outcome seems so extreme that a win means the team is picking up steam, while a defeat would be another example of the Lakers’ preseason plan. keeps slipping away.