Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly newsletter. As always, send along any questions you might have that you’d like featured in this newsletter by replying to this email.
If you read these newsletters in a timely fashion, then as you read this, LeBron James is in the first day of a four-day stay in Los Angeles, his home away from home. He’s been greeted by the third set of billboards in the Great Billboard Wars of 2018.
James was in Los Angeles less than one month ago, and when he spoke about what a wonderful time he and his family had with the All-Star Game in this city, it caused some parsing of his words.
Expect that again this week with one addition. James wasn’t asked about free agency and whether he wants to play for the Lakers during All-Star weekend.
The Cavaliers landed from Denver early Thursday morning. They’ll have an off day on Thursday and then have shootaround Friday, at which time the queries will probably begin. Of course, it’s entirely possible James doesn’t make himself available at shootaround, which was the route he took when the Lakers played in Cleveland.
Cleveland plays the Clippers on Friday and the Lakers on Sunday.
And speaking of the Lakers, what a bizarre finish they had last night. Let’s start there.
Did the Lakers win because of home cooking in the final second?
The short answer here is no.
First, a recap of what happened. The Lakers didn’t hit a single field goal in the final 2:18 of the game, allowing the Magic to storm back for a one-point lead. Brook Lopez got fouled as he shot and made two free throws to give the Lakers a one-point lead with 0.6 seconds left. As everyone who follows the Lakers knows well, 0.6 seconds is plenty of time to get a shot off after an inbounds pass. The Lakers had the inbound play defended well and the Magic would not have been able to get a shot off, the way the ball entered the court. The problem was, the buzzer went off even before anyone had touched the ball inbounds. That meant someone started the clock early. After a review, the result was a jump ball at center court, assuring the Magic would have no time to take a shot.
Orlando Coach Frank Vogel was furious.
“I don’t know. It’s just common sense would tell me that in that situation, the clock started early, that you do re-do the possession,” Vogel said.
“We feel cheated,” Aaron Gordon said. “We feel cheated.”
Later he added: “That’s not how the game of basketball should go.”
The rule, according to referee Bill Spooner, is that any clock malfunction is resolved by a jump ball. Magic center Nikola Vucevic floated a potential conspiracy theory.
“Pretty much any home team, if you are up one and setting one second up, as soon as soon as somebody throws it, you just run the clock,” Vucevic said, according to quotes distributed by the Lakers. “And if somebody touches it it’s a jump ball. It doesn’t make any sense and I think they have to look into that.”
So is Vucevic right? Can a home team’s clock operator just start the clock early to force a jump ball and ensure a victor? In theory, yes. But it’s unclear whether the Lakers’ scorer was who started the clock in this case. After all, all three referees also have the ability to start the clock. It’s possible one of them erred here.
The Lakers had sympathy for the Magic, but they were happy to get the win.
It’s also important to remember that had the clock started on time on that play, the Lakers likely would have won the game anyway. Lakers Coach Luke Walton even said he was initially upset at the problem with the clock because of how well the Lakers had the play defended. He thought the situation would wind up giving the Magic a second chance on a play that wasn’t going to work the first time.
They were all confused, if a bit relieved to have made it through a game in which they gave up another double-digit fourth quarter lead with a win.
“I ain’t never seen that before but I’ll take the win,” Lonzo Ball said.
Since last we spoke…
--Two winning streaks ended at the hands of Damian Lillard this week. A five-game winning streak overall. A nine-game winning streak at home.
--Walton hesitated to talk playoffs, but among themselves the Lakers have been. It’s still possible, if unlikely. The Lakers need to leapfrog three teams, all of which are 5½ games ahead of them in the standings.
--Brandon Ingram (left groin strain) and Josh Hart (broken left hand) are both out and it’s hurting the Lakers. While they both want to return as soon as possible, it could be a while for both of them. Officially, the Lakers say Ingram will be reevaluated after this week while Hart will be out at least a month from when the injury happened.
--Late last week I dove into some of the numbers with Ball on the court and with him off it since the start of the calendar year. The Lakers were much better with him playing, both offensively and defensively.
--It was Ball’s shooting that helped the Lakers beat the Spurs, coming back from a 17-point deficit. Ball made six three-pointers.
In addition to the Cavaliers, the Lakers play the Denver Nuggets twice this week. Their faint playoff hopes could get a boost if they are able to grab a couple wins against Denver, one of the teams they’ll need to jump to sneak into the eighth slot.
All times Pacific
Friday at Denver, 6 p.m.
Sunday vs. Cleveland, 6 p.m., ESPN
Tuesday vs. Denver, 7:30 p.m., NBATV
Wednesday at Golden State. 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Until next time