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Lakers

Lakers’ playoff hopes dwindle after 118-109 loss to last-place Suns

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, dives for a loose ball in front of Los Angeles Lakers fo
Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, dives for a loose ball in front of Lakers’ Brandon Ingram during the first half.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Calamity struck the Lakers in the desert. They went to Phoenix and lost to the NBA’s worst team.

Now their playoff hopes, already faint, might be dead.

With a 118-109 loss to the Suns, in a game they trailed by 19 points in the fourth quarter, the Lakers fell to 30-33. Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 26 points while Devin Booker scored 25.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 27.

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“Obviously there’s something wrong with this team, and it’s up to us to try to fix it,” Kyle Kuzma said. “But not really sure right now.”

The Lakers finished the night 41/2 games behind the Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs, who are tied for seventh in the conference, their playoff hopes dimming by the day.

“We have the talent, we have the ability, we have the leadership to pile up wins and to make a run for the playoffs, but we have to do that as a collective unit,” Josh Hart said. “And if we don’t believe in each other, we don’t trust each other, offensively or defensively, we’re gonna fail. That’s not how you win.”

This was a team that had won only 12 games all season, but the Lakers had showed themselves perfectly capable of losing to the league’s bottom dwellers. They’d lost to New York and Cleveland at home. They’d lost to Memphis on the road. They suffered a humiliating loss to the Atlanta Hawks just before the All-Star break.

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The Suns were an opponent of a similar caliber. Coming into the game, they ranked 28th in offensive efficiency — only Chicago and Memphis were worse — and 29th in defensive efficiency (Cleveland was last). The Suns came into the game having won only one of their previous 10 games.

On Friday, as the Lakers went toe to toe with the Milwaukee Bucks, the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Suns suffered a 14-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

It appeared the Lakers spent all their emotion, their energy and their will on Friday’s contest. From the start they lacked intensity.

The Suns made six of their first seven shots and 68.4% of their shots overall in the first quarter. Their percentage fell to 59% in the first half. The half ended with an exclamation point for the Suns.

James took the ball nearly the length of the court, into the paint and into a crowd of Suns. Richaun Holmes blocked his shot and Kelly Oubre Jr. took it up the court, punctuating the sequence with an alley-oop to Josh Jackson.

It was the final scoring play of the first half, and it sent the Lakers to halftime trailing by seven points.

One sequence in the third quarter featured a turnover, a miss, a turnover, two more misses, then a bizarre turnover where James attempted to inbound the ball but instead hit the back of the backboard.

“That was just silly on my part,” James said. “I thought I had a little bit more room to get it to BI [Brandon Ingram]. JaVale [McGee] was kind of right there. Tried to throw it over JaVale’s head and it hit the foam on the backboard. That was just stupidity on my part.”

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Early in the fourth quarter, the Lakers found themselves in such dire straits they began rolling the ball inbounds to save time on the clock so they could try to mount a comeback. They faced a 19-point deficit in the fourth.

The Lakers scored a quick six points while trailing by 18 points to trim the Suns’ lead to 12. But their run was broken up when James fouled Mikal Bridges while he shot a three-pointer. Bridges made two of the ensuing three free throws.

James cut the Suns’ lead to three with a dunk, but the Lakers couldn’t get closer. Josh Hart was called for a foul and Ayton made two free throws to extend Phoenix’s lead. Down five, James missed a pair of free throws at the other end.

“Until the fourth quarter we didn’t engage ourselves,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.

Walton was asked for an explanation for the early lack of passion and energy.

“I don’t try to explain it,” he said. “I just know we gotta be better. I know our group has worked really hard all year so I’m gonna continue to believe in them.

“But I don’t have an explanation for it.”

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tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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