The Chicago Bulls offered a respite for the Lakers two nights earlier, but the Toronto Raptors are in the hunt for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and even without key players Kyle Lowry (ankle) and Serge Ibaka (suspension) they stayed steadily ahead of the Lakers throughout most of the game Thursday night.
Although the Lakers made a push in the second quarter and took a two-point lead, that was the only time they truly threatened the Raptors, who went on to a 111-98 victory.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to we have to make shots,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We held them to 39% from the field. We shot 22.6 from three. So we give ourselves a chance to hang around and stay in a game, but to win against a good team on the road, for the most part you’re gonna have to knock down more than that on that end.”
Although the Lakers outscored the Raptors 58-32 in the paint, they only made seven of 31 three pointers, frequently missing open looks. The Raptors made 16 of 41 three-pointers, and that was the difference.
The Lakers have lost six of their last seven games and fell to 31-37. The Raptors improved to 49-20 and are 2 ½ games behind Milwaukee in the East.
The Lakers were also short-handed Thursday. In addition to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who will not play again this season, Lance Stephenson (sprained toe) and Tyson Chandler (neck stiffness) didn’t play either. Josh Hart played despite having an injured right knee.
Now the Lakers will head to Detroit and wrestle with the decision of whether to play LeBron James. James’ minutes are being limited as the season winds down. He played 31 minutes and 47 seconds on Thursday night, scoring 29 points with four rebounds and six assists.
James said after the game he doesn’t know whether he will play Friday.
“It's challenging for me mentally because I'm so accustomed to being out on the floor, especially when I'm healthy,” James said. “You know, but it's a conversation between myself and my trainer and the coaching staff and the front office, and this is the direction that they wanted to go the remainder of the season given the lack of success we've had with our ballclub. So I trust the people in charge, and that's what it is.”
It’s not easy on the Lakers as a whole either. James left the game with 4:46 left in the second quarter and didn’t return before halftime. The Lakers took a two-point lead a few seconds later, but the Raptors went on a 14-2 run to end the half while James sat on the bench.
At halftime, the Lakers trailed 65-54 and Alex Caruso was the Lakers’ leading scorer with 14 points. Caruso finished the game with 16 points.
Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points with eight rebounds and four assists for the Raptors, while UCLA alum Norman Powell scored 20 points. Aside from James, no other Lakers starter scored more than Rajon Rondo’s 13 points. Kyle Kuzma and Reggie Bullock combined made only five of 18 shots.
“We had some turnovers, and we had some offensive rebounds that we gave up, at critical points of time of the game,” James said. “Sometimes two or three guys would be on the ball and they would come up with it. You can't dictate if you can make shots from the perimeter or not ... but some of the things that you can control is turnovers, we had 20, and some of the offensive rebounds we gave up.”