DETROIT – It’s hard to call a “must-win” game against the Detroit Pistons, but the Los Angeles Lakers are looking relieved after an 11-day road trip that saw them travel multiple time zones.

It’s even harder to believe they’ve stopped the boat from flipping after a horrible 0-5 start, considering they’ve lost three in a row before surviving the Pistons’ emergency on Sunday.

The Lakers appear to be on a tear, but after dropping Tuesday’s overtime game to the Boston Celtics, they still trail only San Antonio and Houston in the West.

This is how they set themselves up in their quest to become relevant beyond the star power provided by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And even though it looks like there’s plenty of season left, one wonders if the hole they’ve dug is too deep to climb out of.

James looked tired, but he wasn’t completely exhausted following his 35-point performance before the big man assisted on a corner triple by Austin Reeves to wrap things up in the final minute.

If Herculean performances from the man who turns 38 in two weeks are necessary to keep the Lakers afloat, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for long-term success. Davis has contributed his best consistently dominant game in years—at least since the pre-bubble season.

Even with his one point showing against Cleveland – he played just eight minutes due to illness – his last 12 games have been ridiculous: 31.6 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 blocks on 64.9% shooting.

There seems to be a formula, at least until the shippers make a significant manpower move. Constant pressure at the rim to make up for the lack of 3-point shooting (the forwards get to the lane more efficiently than anyone else). Get lucky in the open floor when the time calls for it.

Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis, left, shoots against Detroit Pistons guard Jaden Evie and center Jalen Duren during their NBA game in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Defend — or at least try to — avoid foul trouble and stay healthy, hoping Davis can protect the rim.

And finally, preventing breakouts may be the biggest key. Head coach Darwin Hamm has earned the respect and trust of his players, apparently, because of his no-nonsense, no-fear approach.

Detroit’s three-game losing streak saved a road trip and perhaps showed mental toughness. A shocking overtime loss in Philadelphia followed a furious rally in the final minutes, and that had the hangover effect.

He didn’t, and Hamm should be commended for leveling things up.

“You’re right, it was a tragic loss the way we lost. But we have to pull ourselves back. You know, that was a big part of the movie this morning,” Hamm said Sunday afternoon. “When we made that run between us, they scored. And we kept coming and coming. It has to be the way we approach the rest of the season.”

Russell Westbrook didn’t play in the fourth quarter Sunday, and it wasn’t because he had a terrible night. It wasn’t a career night, but he had 11 points and nine assists in 21 minutes, making five of nine shots.

Hamm liked the post-game segment and stuck with it. Among reserves, only Revs has played more games than Westbrook.

With Westbrook minus 12, that might be a deceiving stat on its face. Much of that happened when Bojan Bogdanovic went wild, scoring 25 of the Pistons’ 41 in the third quarter.

Hamm, however, seems to have fairness and honesty with Westbrook to make such a thing happen and not cause big time issues down the line. Hamm was straight forward as he advanced towards the players – a balanced balance.

If Westbrook is doing spectacularly well, it would be overselling Hamm to say he’s rolling with the team. Westbrook may take it as a sign that he personally or his coach doesn’t trust him, or that he’s unwilling to ride with a veteran player of star pedigree in the fight.

Lakers head coach Darwin Hamm talks with guard Russell Westbrook during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Lakers head coach Darwin Hamm talks with guard Russell Westbrook during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Hamm provided an example from the previous game when Dennis Schroder had to check in, but signaled to the coaches to keep the current team on the floor. That particular sacrifice was mentioned in the morning meeting, and of course Cam had no clue that he would be called upon two nights later.

“Of course, you can’t always just look at statistics. Now look at the rhythm of the five people playing at the audition,” Cam said. “And I felt like we had a team in a really good rhythm.”

He said of Schroeder: “And those three words are: competitiveness, solidarity and accountability. And that was a great exhibition of unity. And if we’re going to change this thing, we have to be like that.”

The final score indicates where the decency Lakers are. Hamm can certainly credit the team for a better-than-expected road trip, but he knows they still have a lot of work to do.

When you start 2-10, every win is precious, but no victory can be enough to breathe. The Lakers have no margin for error despite dominating the trade board.

It’s easy to say the Lakers should do the sensible thing — take a cue from the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, who put everything on the line for a Super Bowl win but now look terrible — and hold on to their first-round picks. Years away.

But they recognized the practice when they signed James four years ago because he helped them out of the NBA abyss. As long as he is great, he will seek all your wealth in the name of war.

Although he is not at the top of the mountain, performance-wise, he can repeatedly call for a night that few can compete with – not only because of his age, but without any filters.

Those nights don’t come like they used to, that’s for sure. But when they do — and even if they don’t — he stays at the top of the basketball conversation.

Not that he owes anything, especially when some of the league’s greatest players ended their careers on less-than-spectacular teams. What everyone seems to agree on is that it’s hard to go back.

The West hasn’t quite opened yet, but there is enough sunshine to give some hope to those who have never seen rain in Southern California.

a little bit.

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