Saturday night’s game at Staples Center looked every bit like a game between two weary teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back, both missing starters.
It was ugly and the Lakers lost, 95-92. Winning ugly against teams they are capable of beating hasn’t come easy to the Lakers.
“Going in I told the guys we’ve gotta be ready, we’ve gotta be professionals,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We’re gonna have different lineups tonight. Different people are going to get chances to play. A lot of these guys played 35 to 40 minutes last night. We’re gonna be tired. It’s our job to be ready.
“I didn’t think we did a good job of that. I thought guys on our bench were pouting. I thought there was too much feeling sorry for ourselves as opposed to being professionals.”
The Lakers pushed back the Trail Blazers’ surges twice in the game’s final six minutes, but Portland had one more surge than the Lakers did. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed a three-point attempt with 12.7 seconds left that would have given the Lakers a lead, and he missed another one with 7.6 seconds left that would have tied it.
Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 18 points each. Maurice Harkless led Portland with 22 points, 13 of them in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play for a 94-92 lead.
The Lakers had just finished a span that included two games against the Warriors, one against the Rockets and one against the Cavaliers. Finding motivation and energy against those teams was easy.
History suggested they wouldn’t be quite as energetic and focused against the Trail Blazers, a playoff team, but one that entered Saturday’s game 16-16. Indeed, the energy they displayed was out of character for how the Lakers have been playing lately.
“Back-to-backs are a beast in this league, we obviously played a very good team last night,” Lakers center Andrew Bogut said. “Every team can use that excuse. If this team, if you want to be great one day, you can’t use that as an excuse. It was a different feel with this loss to all the other losses we have had. We haven’t had an effort like this for a while and this was one of those nights where it was very easily fixable but it kind of wasn’t. It wasn’t very professional.”
The Lakers played without starting small forward Brandon Ingram, who suffered quadriceps injuries in the last two games. They are still without center Brook Lopez, who is recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered last Sunday.
Both teams struggled early, especially the Trail Blazers, who made only seven of 23 first-quarter shots. That was due in part to a Lakers defense led by Josh Hart, who started in Ingram’s place.
Portland’s shooting recovered in the second quarter and they cut the Lakers’ seven-point first-quarter lead to five by halftime with the help of 10 points by Shabazz Napier. It was 70-70 after three quarters, thanks to an 8-0 run by the Trail Blazers to end the period.
“We got the stop from [Alex Caruso] with a great defensive play in the post and right at that moment Harkless outworks all of our guys,” Walton said. “We had three guys in the paint and he just went down and took it and laid it back up.