The Lakers’ season turned bleak on Friday afternoon when they announced Anthony Davis would be out indefinitely with a stress injury to his right foot.
Things turned darker a few hours later as the Charlotte Hornets, down to 8-24 after being beaten by the Clippers earlier this week, took advantage of the Lakers’ sluggish and sometimes disinterested defense to gain 62 points in the paint score, 32 points away from the Lakers’ 17 turnovers and 29 fast break points.
But the Lakers may have reached their worst point when center Thomas Bryant, who had cleverly filled in for Davis, injured his right shoulder in the fourth quarter and missed the final 3 minutes and 16 seconds of the Hornets’ 134-130 win on a rare occasion sold-out crowd at the Crypto.com Arena. Already small, the Lakers cannot afford to lose Bryant’s height (6-foot-10). You desperately need his energy and tenacity.
“AD’s situation is what it is. We will find out Thomas. But this league is heartless. They don’t feel sorry for each other,” said coach Darvin Ham as the team prepared to take a Red Eye flight to Dallas for a game on Christmas Day that will kick off a five-game trip. A journey that looked challenging before Bryant injured his shoulder has now become worrying.
“You hurt people? Oh well. still have to play. Someone has a bad stretch? Oh well. I have yet to play,” Ham added. “So the biggest thing we can do is reiterate our principles and make sure we execute those on both sides of the ball and keep pushing forward and try to get better and learn from those losses.”
They had enough opportunities to learn from the defeat: After their third loss in a row, they are 13:19. Opponents have scored at least 130 points in each of those losses, despite missing several rotation players in the first game of this series at Phoenix.
The Hornets, ranked 29th in the NBA in shot percentage before Friday’s game, shot a season-high .553 from the field to set a season-high in points. Chino Hills’ LaMelo Ball had 23 points, his sixth consecutive performance with 20 or more points since returning from an ankle injury. He also had eight rebounds and eight assists.
“All the credit in the world goes to Charlotte. They played a hell of a game of ball but we helped them out,” Ham said. “We helped them tonight and we have a lot of things to tighten up.”
The Lakers, who were outplayed 81-60 in Wednesday’s second and third quarters in Sacramento, were outplayed 70-56 in Friday’s second and third quarters. The Hornets, who had all five starters in double figures, scored so many points that Lakers guard Austin Reaves didn’t realize how inexcusably high the final tally was.
“I don’t even know how many we gave up today. One-twenty-something. One twenty four. We lost 134 in the last game. That’s just too many points,” Reaves said. “You won’t win that many games.”
Of course, Davis’ absence is responsible for a large portion of the Lakers’ problems, and they haven’t had time to adjust. “It’s hard. When you lose someone like AD, he’s kind of at the heart of what we do defensively,” Reaves said. “Because once you get beyond dribble, you know you’re not quite out ‘Cause he’s over there.”
Reaves said the Lakers need to go back to the tried-and-true next-man mentality. But that only goes so far that the next man, Bryant, could also be injured.
The idea of leaving everything to LeBron James won’t work, even though he scored 18 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter, his sixth straight 30-point game. He achieved several more career milestones by completing the 1,390. regular season game of his career, overtook Reggie Miller for 12th place in NBA history and his 1,389. Game started, tying Tim Duncan for 5th most games in NBA history.
But he and Russell Westbrook, who had 17 points and seven assists off the bench after missing two games with left foot pain, can’t pull magic tricks if there’s no cohesion or consistency in defense.
“We can’t just assume that… [because] We have Hall of Famers for first choice on this list where we can just mess around with the game and squander possessions and someone will put on their cloak and save the day,” Ham said.
“We have to get ahead of things. We have to be the ones who set the tone, not someone else’s energy.”
James also cited Charlotte’s ability to capitalize on Lakers turnovers and score in transition as some of Friday’s key issues. “We just don’t have a lot of margin for error,” he said, “and we have to be able to control the things that we can control.”
They let slip control of the game on Friday. It was an all too familiar scene in a season that went from bleak to bleak to bleak after 32 games.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-12-24/los-angeles-lakers-charlotte-hornets-nba-game-analysis Lakers’ problems magnified in loss to struggling Hornets