The Lakers’ season might be lost and any hopes of a playoff berth vanished, but they faced a team Friday night in the Charlotte Hornets who still had a chance.
“Yeah that was on our minds tonight,” LeBron James said. “We would love to see a couple of those guys on the same vacation trips as us.”
The Lakers defeated the Hornets 129-115, shooting 56% from the field and 47.4% from three-point range. James led all scorers with 27 points, including four three-pointers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 25 points and made six of 10 three-point attempts. Kyle Kuzma added 20 points, making nine of 16 shots overall.
“Yeah I mean, every team that plays us they just get up to play us and random guys have their best nights against us,” Kuzma said. “Just returning the favor. Those guys were out of the playoffs 10, 12 days ago and they won four in a row and now they’re back. They were trying to give us their best punch.”
The Hornets (35-40) were led by Kemba Walker, who scored 24 points but made only one of seven three-pointers. Rajon Rondo guarded Walker for much of the night and contributed 17 assists.
“I think that our guys right now are, they seem to be playing free,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
“Our main priority tonight was to make life hard on Kemba and I think Rondo accepted that challenge. ... There’s been a little bit of a rhythm with the rotation of guys who are playing. There’s a lot of little factors going into it. It’s nice to be on that side of it again.”
The Lakers secured their third consecutive home win, after beating the Sacramento Kings on Sunday and the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. They lost in Utah on Wednesday before returning to Staples Center.
Now 34-42, the Lakers are one win away from last year’s win total.
The Lakers took a 4-0 lead, but the Hornets countered with a 12-0 run aided by two turnovers from James. In all, James had four turnovers in the first quarter.
But the Lakers recovered from their early deficit, in part by shooting better than 54% from the field, and trailed by only two after one quarter.
Their shooting remained strong all game. The Lakers made 51.9% of their shots in the second quarter and 61.9% in the third. Even more impressive, they made more than 40% of their three-pointers.
Shooting has been a sore point for the Lakers all season. The Lakers wanted to sign shooters last summer, but found most of them headed toward longer-term contracts. Instead they signed players for whom shooting was not a forte and touted their playmaking ability, saying they hoped to ease James’ workload by doing so.
In reality it has meant less spacing for James to operate on the floor and has led to the Lakers being the second-worst three-point shooting team in the NBA. Even a deadline move for Reggie Bullock, whom they expected to help with the shooting, didn’t do it. Bullock’s three-point shooting dropped by 7.4% once he got traded from Detroit to Los Angeles. He didn’t play Friday night for the third straight game.
In a story that was published Thursday, James was quoted as sticking his tongue out and making a “raspberry” sound when asked about the Lakers’ experiment of surrounding him with playmakers rather than shooters.
But with the pressure of a postseason berth gone, and some steadier lineups, the offense has found some stability. Some players’ shooting has improved. That, combined with better ball movement, has increased the number of assists the Lakers have tallied too.