LOS ANGELES — The Lakers can’t let up. Not for a minute. The margin for error is far too slim.
LeBron James was too far off on his 29th and final shot of the night, a desperation pull-up from 3-point range in a failed attempt to force a second overtime against the lowly Washington Wizards. And after Kyle Kuzma grabbed a rebound and forced up his own miss from the corner, he threw his head back with exasperation as he stared at the Staples Center ceiling.
How much more is it going to take?
Frustration defined the Lakers’ third consecutive loss, a 127-124 nail-biter against a Washington team that they once led by 17 points. It was the kind of game they treated with a cavalier attitude early in the season, when they had the horses to stay ahead without much effort. Now they’re short-handed, and it’s not good enough anymore.
The way the latest stretch of the season is going, without starters Anthony Davis and Dennis Scröder, the Lakers have played as if one hand is tied behind their back. And while that’s resulted in losses against good teams like Brooklyn and Denver, the latest batch of results (four losses in five games) paints the reality that the team that was leading the Western Conference for much of the early part of the season is now clawing to stay afloat every night.
“I think we played well enough to win,” James said, “and also not well enough to win at the same time.”
It surely was not lost on the Lakers that the Wizards, who won their fifth straight, were able to ride their one-two punch of Bradley Beal (33 points) and Russell Westbrook (32 points) in overtime – making the hosts pine all the more for the days when they could lean on two All-Stars as well.
Beal captivated in the closing minutes of overtime, scoring on a reverse layup and a tough floater that gave the Wizards a four-point lead in the final minute. After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points) made a 3-pointer to close the gap, Westbrook got a contested layup that gave the visitors a three-point lead.
“I mean, if those two guys play like that, you’re looking at one of the best backcourts in the whole game, in all of basketball, so it’s extremely difficult,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “I thought our guys really competed, made things tough on those guys. But those guys are playing at a super high level.”
One of the NBA’s top three players in minutes and by far the oldest of that group, James again showed some weariness creeping up in his shooting, going 14 for 29 overall with 31 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. The Lakers fretted that it took 44 minutes for James to get his first free-throw attempt – the Wizards outshot the home team at the line, 33 to 17 – but still, at crunch time, James was making plays.
The last of those in regulation was a bully-ball drive against Westbrook, hitting a contested two over the superstar guard and drawing the foul. But James missed an opportunity to win it, clanking a free throw with 9.8 seconds left. The Wizards got the ball to Beal out of a timeout, but he couldn’t find open space and his 3-point attempt was too strong – sending the Lakers to their fourth overtime game of the season (all in a 17-day stretch).
Without being asked about it, James brought up the free throw as his defining mistake of the evening.
“I gotta make the free throw up there, it’s an easy point for us,” he said. “We didn’t lose the game there, but I take that responsibility for sure, and I gotta be better.”
Reserve guard Alex Caruso gave the Lakers a big lift late in the fourth quarter with a key sequence, drawing an offensive foul against Westbrook and then sinking a corner 3-pointer on a second-chance possession to cut the Wizards’ lead to a single point. After Beal converted a pair of free throws, Caldwell-Pope tied it with a 3-pointer of his own.
But rookie Deni Avdija showed gumption in big moments, including the 3-pointer that put the Wizards ahead in the fourth quarter, then the corner 3-pointer that gave Washington a three-point lead with 51.7 seconds to go.
Harrell has been a relatively unsung hero of recent weeks, but he leaped to the fore of Monday night’s matchup early. With tough second efforts against the likes of 7-footer Robin Lopez, Harrell bullied his way to 15 first-half points in just 13 minutes, giving the Lakers double-digit breathing room by halftime.
But that started to crumble in the second half as the Lakers coughed up more turnovers and Washington attacked off of those miscues. The Wizards also dumped the ball to Lopez in the second half, and with a speed advantage over Marc Gasol and a height advantage over Harrell, the 12th-year pro was able to make a difference.
Harrell finished with a season-high 26 points and nine rebounds, but Vogel said he didn’t play the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year from the 6:46 mark of the fourth quarter on because of the defensive concerns against Lopez.
Westbrook brought the bumps on offense in the first half. The former MVP gave the Lakers the gift of misses, including a third-quarter layup attempt that completely missed the rim and backboard. But eventually, he caught steam, going 5 for 8 with eight assists in the second half as the Wizards erased the Lakers’ 14-point edge.
It’s the kind of fight the Lakers want to see from themselves as more difficult games lie ahead, starting Wednesday on the road against the league-leading Utah Jazz.
Kuzma, who scored 14 points, said it’s nothing the Lakers haven’t seen before.
“We’re the champs: Everybody comes in, they play their best basketball against us,” he said. “Everybody gives us their best fight. And, you know, we just gotta figure it out. It happens. It’s not the end of the world.”
“I’ve never talked about needing more rest…I don’t believe in it. I’m here to work and be available to my teammates.” @KingJames answers questions about tonight’s game and if he feels he needs to take a game off for additional rest. #Lakers pic.twitter.com/RqJrceU7CJ
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 23, 2021
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 23, 2021
Lakers fall to Wizards in OT for 3rd straight loss – Daily News Source link Lakers fall to Wizards in OT for 3rd straight loss – Daily News