LeBron James hit two milestones on Monday. The first, and more positive benchmark James hit came early on, when he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most total minutes played in NBA history. The second, more dubious bit of history came when the game concluded. The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Lakers, 138-94, giving James the first 44-point loss of his entire 21-year NBA career.
That the two pieces of history would come on the same night feels somewhat appropriate. The Lakers (10-8) have needed to rely on James far more this season than they would have hoped. On opening night, the Lakers played James only 29 minutes in an effort to preserve his body, but he has averaged over 34 minutes per game since. He's had to play that much. In the 572 minutes James has played this season, the Lakers have outscored opponents by 69 points, but in the 302 minutes James has spent on the bench, the Lakers have been outscored by 92 points. The Lakers are placing an impossible burden on LeBron's 38-year-old shoulders, and it's already proving unsustainable.
James knows it, too. When he was asked after the game what needs to change following the blowout loss to Philadelphia, James responded simply "a lot." He did not elaborate on what he meant.
He hardly needed to. Despite their 10-8 record, the Lakers have a number of visible flaws that extend beyond their injury-riddled supporting cast. They are making the fewest 3-pointers per game (9.8) in the NBA this season. They generate more turnovers than league-average and pull in a below-average percentage of available of rebounds. They rank 28th in the NBA in total passes per game. They have Anthony Davis on their team and they are still somehow only an average rim defense.
Getting healthier will be meaningful, but it won't solve this roster's underlying flaws. There are still too many players who excel on only one side of the ball while dragging down the other. There is no reliable secondary shot-creator that can consistently pressure the rim. The shooting issues have persisted for years. Backup center is growing increasingly concerning as well due to the disappointing play of Jaxson Hayes.
The Lakers were 7-11 at this point last season, so from that perspective they are significantly better. But last year's goals were far more modest. That team spent the first four months of the season proving it could win. This team already did so last season. The expectation was to continue competing and build on last season's success. Right now, that isn't happening even with James playing more minutes than the team originally hoped. If the Lakers are losing games by 44 points with him, there's no way of knowing how bad it could get without him.