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Lakers are 'killing ourselves' at the line

Lakers are 'killing ourselves' at the line
LeBron James was responsible for five of the Lakers' 11 misses from the line Sunday against Orlando. Lonzo Ball, a 57% free-throw shooter, fortunately didn't attempt any. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The six best free-throw shooting teams in the NBA are all averaging better than 80%.

That’s difficult to accomplish — the Lakers have done it only once, 30 years ago. But they have plenty of room to improve as free throw shooters.

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Sunday’s loss to Orlando offered the latest example of the Lakers’ free-throw woes. They made only 20 of 31 attempts (64.5%), worse than their season average of 71.7% which ranks sixth worst in the NBA.

“We’re killing ourselves,” Coach Luke Walton said. “…You lose a close game, you miss 11 free throws. Those are free points. We gotta step up and knock those down.”

This is the second year in a row the Lakers have been among the league’s worst free-throw-shooting teams. Last season they improved over the season but still finished with the worst percentage in the league at 71.4%.

LeBron James, a career 73.9% shooter, was the biggest culprit Sunday, missing five of 11.

“You get better at things by practicing,” Walton said. “As players you take that responsibility, step up and knock them down.”

Block party

JaVale McGee tallied seven blocks, 12 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes against the Magic, the third Laker since 1999-2000 to notch at least seven blocks in a game.

McGee had four blocks in the first quarter, the second time he’s had at least four in one quarter. He and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside are the only players to do it more than once this season.

“He covered up some of our mistakes and he’s done that for us all season,” Walton said. “[Nikola] Vucevic is a tough matchup because he’s popping and stretching that out to behind the three-point line, so JaVale had a good game, but as a whole we didn’t do a good enough job on Vucevic.”

The Lakers relied on McGee when Orlando center Vucevic, a USC alumnus, was on the court.

“I’m a roamer so I like to get in the paint and help out a little bit, so it’s kind of a challenge when Vucevic is staying at the three,” McGee said. “Trying to get out of that habit of going to the rim and helping people out rather than just staying with my man.”

Deep conference

In the eyes of Magic coach Steve Clifford, it is not unexpected to see the Western Conference so tight.

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Only 4½ games separate second-to-last Utah and Minnesota from the conference-leading Clippers and Golden State.

The Lakers sit seventh in the West and are just two games out of first place.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Clifford said before Sunday’s game. “I think that there is so much balance. … And then there’s always when you look at that stuff, the health factor. The Golden State injuries [to Stephen Curry and Draymond Green] have been a part of it.

“And the other one that’s hard to me is until you’ve played about 45 [games], is you never know strength-of-schedule, home, road, who teams have played. All that stuff comes into play also.”

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