LeBron James disappears in second half, Alex Caruso can’t save Lakers in loss to Heat

Lakers star LeBron James puts up a shot in front of Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn.
LeBron James puts up a shot in front of Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn during the first half of the Lakers’ 96-94 loss Saturday at Staples Center. James scored just four points in the second half.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Wesley Matthews pounded the padding on the table underneath the basket where the Lakers needed just one more shot to fall. Alex Caruso, the player who could’ve sent the game into overtime and didn’t, put his hands to his head in disbelief.

And LeBron James, the player the Lakers are leaning on most to help them navigate this stretch of schedule, walked off the Staples Center court.

Despite claims from their coach that the Lakers have enough to win without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, L.A. lost for the second straight time without them Saturday, this time coming up short against the struggling Miami Heat 96-94.


James scored 19 points but had only two in the fourth quarter, with the biggest shots being taken by Marc Gasol, Kyle Kuzma, Matthews and Caruso — not James. Thanks in part to a defense keyed on stopping him, James attempted just three shots in the final five minutes as the Lakers tried to finish a comeback.

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder, who was out against the Heat on Saturday, will miss at least two more games while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

It’s life for the Lakers without Davis on the court — all eyes on James with teams daring the other Lakers to beat them.

Despite hitting only 28.9% from three-point range, they nearly pulled it off.

James stole an inbounds pass and, after being double-teamed, found Caruso, who took a long two-pointer to beat the clock and potentially send the game into overtime. It was short.

It was as if the Heat were testing a theory that Frank Vogel has repeated since Davis re-injured his Achilles in Denver, a step that’s helped put the Lakers on a path of three losses in four games.

“We’ve got enough firepower,” Vogel has echoed.

He said it after the Brooklyn Nets dominated the Lakers on Thursday night even with Kevin Durant watching the game in a hoodie and shorts. And he said it again — and again and again — Saturday before the Lakers’ NBA Finals rematch with the Heat, a team still trying to find its footing after playing deep in the bubble.

Vogel either earnestly believes the Lakers still can win — even without their point guard as he navigates his way through the league’s COVID-19 protocols — or he’s trying to convince himself it’s true.

Schroder will be out at least the next two games, Vogel said. Davis is probably out until next month. And the Lakers have to find ways to handle it.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 96-94 loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Kuzma, who scored a team-high 23 points, said the Lakers don’t really know what to do or where to go with 40% of their starting lineup shelved, a massive adjustment.

“It’s the biggest thing for us,” Kuzma said during a videoconference. “It’s just huge for us to continue having winning habits.”

They also have slimmer margins for mistakes, and a slow start Saturday proved costly.

With no Davis, the Lakers didn’t have their best option to slow Miami’s All-Star big man, Bam Adebayo, with Gasol unable to stay in front of him. The Lakers didn’t fare better on the perimeter, with guard Kendrick Nunn scoring 15 of his 27 points in the first quarter. Adebayo had 14 of his 16 in the half, with Miami scoring nearly two points for every one the Lakers had inside the paint.

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The Lakers’ cold shooting also continued early, the team making only two of 10 three-pointers in the first quarter, but after days of Vogel begging his team to shoot more from deep regardless of the percentages, the Lakers kept firing.

They hit five of 11 in the second quarter, cutting into Miami’s lead, and thanks to some wide-open threes in the third, the Lakers briefly held a lead.

But with James going to the bench in the third quarter, the team predictably struggled.

The Heat ripped off an 8-0 run in three minutes with James on the bench, quickly regaining control and forcing the Lakers to fight uphill the rest of the way.

“We’re putting a lot on Bron,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said.

Despite James having only four points in the second half, the Lakers were plus-14 with him on the court. But it wasn’t enough

“It’s time for me to adjust again,” James said.