Lakers lose for the sixth time in seventh game as LeBron James exits early – Daily Bulletin

Given a few seconds and the ball, Kyle Lowry is never one to waste an opportunity.

The thick-set point guard dashed down the floor as halftime approached, dusting Alex Caruso and sidestepping LeBron James for a layup in less than six seconds to put his team up by 13 at the buzzer.

It was that kind of urgency that the Lakers saw often on Sunday night from the Toronto Raptors, but never managed to summon themselves until it was far too late. Their own opportunity to shore up their sinking spot in the standings was wasted ahead of a decisive stretch of games.

In the closest thing to a must-win the defending champions have played so far, the Lakers (36-28) did not live up to the moment in a 121-114 defeat to the shorthanded Raptors (27-38), the team’s sixth loss in seven games. And perhaps most disheartening of all was the scene midway through the fourth quarter, as LeBron James went to the locker room with soreness in his injured right ankle and did not return.

“This is the lowest we’ve been in a while, at least in the past two years, from a losing streak, I guess,” Anthony Davis said. “But the only way is up. We really can’t get any lower than this.”

As ever, there are built-in excuses: that James and Davis are only just back off of long layoffs; that Dennis Schröder could not play after entering COVID-19 protocols; that the team is still working in Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore. But on balance against a Raptors team that has struggled this year and played without Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., the reasons just did not add up to what unfolded.

It was a costly slip-up for the Lakers, who could have moved back into sole fifth place as the Dallas Mavericks lost earlier in the afternoon. Instead, they found themselves stuck in a three-way tangle for spots five through seven with the Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers, who won their game against the Boston Celtics. Dallas owns the tiebreaker with the Lakers at the end of the season.

The returning players from last year’s championship run described the team as disconnected, in part because of the injuries and absences that have racked them during this pandemic afflicted season. But plenty, they acknowledged, is still within their control.

“I think we’re unhealthy and just not good enough,” Kyle Kuzma said. “Losing six is very tough, and we’ve all had winnable games during that stretch. And it’s just a little disappointing. We’re just not together as a whole — team, staff, everything.”

James had 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists but was moving less nimbly than usual before he checked out at the 6:42 mark. While the Lakers pledged to see how his ankle responds overnight, the early exit bodes ill for his availability for Monday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, and perhaps too for how much the Lakers can play him in their three other back-to-back series after this one.

The 36-year-old didn’t second-guess his decision to return on Friday, but in part because he couldn’t see how he could do it any other way with his team in need and practices few and far in-between.

“You never know until you get out there,” he said. “Because honestly some of the sharp pain that I’m feeling or the pain that I’m feeling on the floor I didn’t have during my workouts, during my training or during my running and things of that nature so the only way to test is to get out on the floor.”

The Raptors had a huge night from Pascal Siakam, who poured in 39 points, as well as Lowry (37 points, 11 assists), who was the subject of intense intrigue with the Lakers at the trade deadline. While the Lakers ultimately decided package centered around Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Talen Horton-Tucker was too high of a price, Lowry made a case for the road not taken.

The 35-year-old was an assassin when it counted most, nailing back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the fourth quarter when the Lakers had cut the 21-point lead down to 10 thanks to a bench-driven run. Another top-of-the-key 3-pointer crushed perhaps the last meaningful sign of life from the 2020 champs playing what’s left of the 2019 champs.

Tellingly: Raptors spot starters Stanley Johnson and Malachi Flynn did not score a single point.

“We’re just not playing well right now, you know what I mean: We’re working through that stuff,” coach Frank Vogel said. “They’re playing some bench guys. They’re playing with great energy that don’t typically get the opportunity and some of those possessions we look like we were stuck in mud.”

It was another uneven night from Davis, who drifted for stretches of his 5 for 16 performance, finishing with just 12 points. Andre Drummond had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Kuzma led with 24 points off the bench.

The game started much more auspiciously, with the Lakers blistering to 38 points in the first quarter. Alex Caruso filled in as a starter, looking capable in Schröder’s relief, and Kuzma was red hot for 11 points on 4 for 5 shooting — including a baseline dunk that seemed to indicate the Lakers meant business.

But as has been the case recently, the early energy burned off as Lowry and Siakam got going. It hurt that the Lakers were foul-happy, putting Toronto to the line 18 times in the second quarter alone. The defensive inattentiveness helped players like Deandre’ Bembry successful cut to the hoop from behind.

It added up to a 40-21 Toronto edge in the pivotal second quarter. Coming out of what had to be a disappointing halftime break, the Lakers immediately surrendered five straight points to start the third quarter — their competitive fire missing in action.

After the Nuggets, the Lakers play the Clippers, the Trail Blazers and the Phoenix Suns — all Western playoff teams — in quick succession.

It might have been the play-in games shading his heels, but James openly voiced his disdain for the format in which the Lakers would have to win their way into the first round: “Whoever came up with that (expletive) need to be fired. But whatever.”

But he added that in his opinion, as long as the Lakers reach the fabled stage where they are all healthy, that’s the most important thing.

“It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100 percent or close to 100 percent,” he said. “It don’t matter where we land. That’s my mindset.”

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