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Lakers team ravaged by COVID protocols and injuries misses late chance to beat Bulls

 Lakers guard Russell Westbrook, right, drive to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball.
Lakers guard Russell Westbrook drive to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball during the Lakers’ 115-110 loss Sunday.
(Nam H. Huh / Associated press)

Lakers coach Frank Vogel wasn’t on the sideline, another one of his players entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and one of team’s biggest stars had on a bulky knee brace visible through his sweats.

And all things considered, there was good news to be celebrated Sunday. That news just didn’t include a win.

Anthony Davis, whom the Lakers lost for at least four weeks Friday night in Minnesota, detailed how things could’ve been way worse, how his left knee popped loud enough for him to hear and how the pain built and built until he collapsed.

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Amid a strange season defined by injuries and players going in and out of COVID protocol, the Lakers are striving to get their season on track.

The prospect of the next month without Davis could seem bleak, but there were worse possible outcomes, and with the Lakers’ luck 31 games into this season, no one would’ve been shocked by one.

“Mentally, I’m fine,” Davis said before Sunday’s 115-110 loss to the Chicago Bulls. “I’m in good spirits just being around the team — obviously avoided a major injury, which has kind of got my spirits back up because I just didn’t know.”

That kind of uncertainty has been this team’s trouble all season, the Lakers mostly uncertain what kind of performance they’d deliver on a nightly basis. And just when it seemed as if they maybe found some threads of consistency to hold on to, this trip happened.

They lost players to the protocols starting last Monday with Talen Horton-Tucker. Positive COVID-19 tests quickly spread into the team’s traveling party and broadcast team, the roster changing on a daily basis. Needing bodies to fill out the roster, the team signed veteran guard Isaiah Thomas on Friday.

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots over Chicago Bulls forward Alfonzo McKinnie in the first half.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

With Kent Bazemore freshly in the protocols, the Lakers had to start Thomas on his third day with the team. Add in a substitute coach in David Fizdale with Vogel also in the protocols (he said he’s asymptomatic), and the chaos continued in the finale of their three-game trip.

“This year has been a lot of different things,” Russell Westbrook said, “especially for our team.”

Entering the trip, the Lakers (16-15) had won five of their last seven games. After opening it with a last-second win in Dallas, the team dropped the next two.

“We were getting into it and now something else happened,” Davis said. “It’s our entire team, though. Like, we started playing well, start getting a rhythm with each other and then all the COVID stuff happened and then more injuries.

“So it’s not where we want to be, but we’re not in a terrible spot.”

Maybe it’s not terrible, but it certainly isn’t good. They quickly fell behind by 10 to Chicago before catching fire in the second quarter, LeBron James and Westbrook barreling to the rim and Carmelo Anthony and Thomas hitting shots from the outside.

And Trevor Ariza, whom Vogel has called one of the keys to the Lakers’ versatility, made his season debut and showed some of the proficiency on both ends of the court that many of their other role players lack.

Thanks to 37 points in the second and a defensive effort that held the Bulls to 22 in the quarter, the Lakers were in terrific position to steal a win from the Bulls, who were playing their first game in more than a week since having two postponed because of their own COVID-19 outbreak.

But DeMar DeRozan scored 38 after spending two weeks in the protocols, and the Bulls came up with clutch offensive rebounds to push ahead and hold off the Lakers. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso combined for 36 points and 13 rebounds to haunt their old team.

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The Lakers got a big night from James, functioning largely as the team’s center, as he scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Anthony hit five threes off the bench as he scored 21, but he and Wayne Ellington both missed potential game-tying shots.

And Westbrook, who had a solid all-around game with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, couldn’t finish on a spinning, left-handed layup over Nikola Vucevic in the final minute. Westbrook and James also combined for 11 of the Lakers’ 20 turnovers.

But they fought, short-handed and road-weary — and in their situation, that’s at least something. Players and coaches said so. Wild circumstances have this team with this talent accepting moral victories, but surrounded by uncertainty, extra effort counts for encouraging.

“You try to find ways to be able to not let this deter you,” Westbrook said. “Sometimes you can play well and still lose games. You just try to keep your head up and stay positive.”


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