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Lakers welcome back fans, but can’t get win against Celtics

Lakers center Montrezl Harrell scores on a layup against Celtics center Tristan Thompson in the first quarter.
Lakers center Montrezl Harrell scores on a layup against Celtics center Tristan Thompson in the first quarter on Thursday at Staples Center.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Eight seconds had passed before three words made it clear that basketball was on its way back to being, at least sort of, normal.

“Come on, ref!” someone shouted at the sound of the first whistle.

“We’re all glad to have something that’s a little bit normal,” Kyle Kuzma said.

“Normal” is a word that can’t be used without some serious qualifiers, not with the pandemic still in force, not with the precautions and rules caused by it still so prevalent. But all the seats at Staples Center weren’t empty as things took a small step in the direction of how they used to be — and it wasn’t just the fans in the stands making the Lakers feel that way.

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Star forward Anthony Davis, who hasn’t played for the Lakers since Feb. 14, has been cleared to practice, opening the door for his return sometime next week, though Frank Vogel said it wasn’t out of the question that it could even be sooner.

“He has been cleared for full on-court activity, full practice, anything we want to do with him to begin his real ramp-up in return to play,” Vogel said before the Lakers’ 121-113 loss to Boston. “All the court work he’s been doing to this point has been to get him to be fully cleared to participate in full practice.”

The plan, once Davis is cleared to play, is to use him in light minutes as he returns to form. Thursday, Davis was inactive for the 28th straight game.

“Whenever it is that he returns, it’s not going to be a full return to playing 30-something minutes a night. Especially with the nature of practice and how short-handed we are, he’s going to have to use some games to try to get himself back in shape,” Vogel said. “So the first two games he’s back will likely be short-minute performances, with probably like a 15-minute minutes restriction or something like that and build up from there.”

Even without Davis and LeBron James, Thursday’s game against the Celtics had the best atmosphere of any in Los Angeles this year. Fans hadn’t been able to watch basketball at Staples Center in 401 days — since March 10, 2020.

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Highlights from the Lakers’ 121-113 loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday.

People began trickling in once doors opened at 5:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. start, adjusting to a world of phone-ordered concessions, mandatory mask wearing and a ban on bags. In total, 1,915 attended Thursday’s game.

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The Lakers hope to continue to increase capacity as they get more comfortable with county and state health and safety measures.

They didn’t get much of a show until late, the Lakers starting the game just one of 11 from behind the arc before surging to shoot 32.4% on three-pointers. And the Lakers’ terrific defense had no answers for Boston All-Star Jaylen Brown, who scored 40 points, missing only three of his 20 shots.

“A remarkable performance,” Vogel said, noting that the Lakers’ defense inability to better double-team Brown in the second half.

Marc Gasol scored a season-high 18 points in a spot start (seven of 10 from the field, four of six from the three-point line) and Talen Horton-Tucker scored 19 and Ben McLemore had 17 off the bench.

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Fans are jubilant as they arrive at Staples Center for their first glimpse of the NBA champs in more than a year.

Horton-Tucker and McLemore helped the deepest parts of the bench turn a 27-point Boston lead all the way down to five, forcing Boston to put its starters back in the game.

At times this season, the Lakers have looked tired. At others, they’ve looked short-handed and outmanned. Thursday, it was mostly all of the above.

It’s hard to know what will be whole first — Staples Center or the Lakers’ roster.

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Though they got good news on Davis on Thursday, they got two pieces of bad news: starters Markieff Morris and Andre Drummond both unable to play. Morris missed his second-straight game with an ankle injury. And Drummond, who had his Lakers debut get cut short because of a big toe bruise, aggravated the injury during the team’s recent road trip. Following the Lakers’ win in Charlotte, the two suffered from swelling.

Lakers star Anthony Davis has been cleared to return to practice, presumably the final step before rejoining the team for the first time in months.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope once again had to play through back spasms for the second straight game, while Dennis Schroder defied Vogel’s pregame expectations by being able to start despite an infection on the bottom of his foot.

And in the game, even Gasol had to have a dislocated finger put back into place on the court. X-rays after the game revealed a volar plate fracture on his left pinkie. He’s questionable for Saturday’s game with Utah.

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“That was a first,” Gasol said of the dislocation.

Still, all the problems will be worth it if the Lakers can get their stars back healthy, and for the first time since Davis and James got hurt, the Lakers expressed optimism that at least one would be back soon.

“He’s eager to get back out [there]. That’s the biggest thing,” Vogel said pregame. “He’s tired of being a patient and ready to be a player again.”


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