LeBron James strolled into Staples Center on Friday holding what appeared to be a glass of red wine in his left hand, his phone in his right and wearing a white hoodie under a black blazer.
When the game began, James’ outfit remained the same, but the glass of wine was replaced by a paper cup. Missing a game is fairly unconventional for James, so the unconventional entrance fit.
Two seats away from him on the bench, Rajon Rondo sat wearing his own blazer, holding his right hand, heavily wrapped. And further down the bench sat JaVale McGee, still out after a bout with pneumonia.
The Lakers entered Friday’s game depleted — and they will be for a while. The Clippers took full advantage of that, coming back to win 118-107. The Lakers cut the Clippers’ lead to single digits late, but couldn’t get close enough to really threaten.
Lou Williams led all scorers with 36 points and teammate Danilo Gallinari scored 19 with 10 rebounds for the Clippers (21-14). Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 24 points and Lonzo Ball added 19 for the Lakers (20-16).
The Lakers have lost 22 of their last 25 games against the Clippers and trail them by a game and a half in the packed Western Conference.
“We gotta regroup,” Ball said. “We can’t argue with each other, we’re on the same team.
“… LeBron and Rondo obviously are both our leaders, too, not only being vets. They’ve been doing this a long time, they know what it’s like. They were trying to talk to us the best way they could but it’s not the same as them being out there. We just gotta step up and accept the roles that we’re coming into right now.”
As they did on Thursday, the young Lakers gave themselves a chance early in the game. While the Clippers took an early lead, the Lakers clawed back in the second quarter.
As halftime neared, Ball nearly threw the ball away when a pair of Clippers got their hands on it, but Ball’s effort didn’t wane and he was able to get his hands on the ball again. He flipped it behind his back toward the Lakers basket, where Tyson Chandler waited for it and dunked the ball, hanging on the rim for a second for emphasis.
Ball hit a three-pointer on the Lakers’ next possession, giving them a six-point lead, but a deep three by Williams at the buzzer meant the Lakers went into halftime leading only 54-51.
Not long after that the Clippers took advantage of the Lakers’ miscues, much in the same way the Sacramento Kings did on Thursday night.
“We can’t turn the ball over, which we had way too many turnovers,” Coach Luke Walton said. “At times we played selfish tonight. At times we didn’t make the extra pass, the open pass when the pass was meant to be made.”
The Lakers committed eight turnovers in the third quarter while the Clippers committed only four. This in contrast to the three turnovers the Lakers committed in the entire first half.
A 24-1 run between the third and fourth quarters, which included 22 unanswered points, gave the Clippers a cushion. During that span, the Lakers attempted four free throws and missed three of them. They finished 24 for 35 from the line while the Clippers went 32 for 34.
“This is the NBA,” Williams said. “A lot of weird things happen. I’ve seen teams come back from 30 in the fourth, I’ve seen 22-0 runs. When you’re in that moment you don’t even realize it’s going on. Luckily it was on our side tonight. I”m sure I’ve been on the other side of history before.”
As the game slipped away, the Lakers grew frustrated, sometimes with each other.
“I’m not concerned,” Brandon Ingram said. “It shows a lot about how much our players care about each other, care about the team when other guys are getting on each other. When they come into the huddle trying to be on each other, it just shows how much they care about the basketball game and how much they want to win.”