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Talen Horton-Tucker struggles in his return: Takeaways from Lakers’ loss to Suns

LeBron James holds his hands out in front of him and yells on the court
The Lakers were frustrated after shooting poorly in the second half of a loss to the Suns on Tuesday night.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
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Talen Horton-Tucker officially came out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols Tuesday. But his return to the court for the Lakers later that night against the Phoenix Suns was a game he’d rather forget.

He had missed the previous three games dealing with the COVID-19 virus, testing positive Dec. 14, the day the Lakers left for the start of a three-game trip in Dallas.

All he could do was “sit in my room, isolated, just watching movies pretty much.”

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Talent Horton-Tucker and Isaiah Thomas struggle as LeBron James battles through an injury scare in the Lakers’ 108-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

He didn’t pick up a basketball until he arrived at Staples Center on Tuesday night, and it showed in how rusty his game was.

“For me, it was more mental, I feel like,” Horton-Tucker said. “I really didn’t feel too much. But knowing that you have COVID, it’s ... I feel like any person in their right mind would kind of be a little nervous after that. But I feel like, for me, it was more mental than anything. The symptoms weren’t something that affected me like that, but just being off and mentally being away from the game was something that was not really good for me.”

Four takeaways from the Lakers’ 108-90 loss to the Suns:

Horton-Tucker struggles with his shooting

Horton-Tucker missed 12 of 13 shots and all eight three-pointers. He finished with three points.

In the last game he played before going into the protocols, Horton-Tucker was fantastic, producing 19 points on seven-for-14 shooting, three-for-six on three-pointers and six steals.

But after sitting out a week, he never found his rhythm.

“First game back, I didn’t play to the best of my ability,” he said. “Being out for that week, I feel like it kinda pushed ... Kind of stops you for a minute. I was trying to build some momentum back going into the last few games, and you get hit with the protocols and you kind of got to sit at home, being isolated for the whole week. And not touch a basketball and not do anything.

“Just trying, yesterday was my first day out of the protocol. Really, today is my first official day. Just trying to get back into the groove of things and get my rhythm back, catch my legs and my breathing.”

Ariza makes an impact

In his second game back after missing the first 30 recovering from ankle surgery, Trevor Ariza was on his game.

He made all four of his shots and all three of his three-pointers.

Ariza finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 20:50.

“He’s just a calming, calming, calming presence,” said Lakers interim coach David Fizdale, who is taking over for head coach Frank Vogel while he remains in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. “The way he goes about it gives everybody ease.”

Early exit for Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony was ejected with six minutes 37 seconds left in the third quarter. He felt like had been fouled while shooting a three-pointer. After arguing too much, Anthony was given his second technical foul of the game and tossed.

He is one of the Lakers’ best offensive weapons off the bench. So not having Anthony to provide offense hurt the Lakers when they struggled to score in the second half.

The end of Staples Center is nearly here, and the Lakers squandered their best chance at a meaningful win over the Suns before the Crypto.com Arena era starts.

Anthony left with seven points.

“We were making a good run, but at the end of the day, he had a valid point,” LeBron James said about Anthony. “Obviously, you don’t want nobody to get … You never want to get tossed and lose a guy. But if you look at the replay, he got hit in the ribs when he was shooting a jump shot and the ref literally didn’t call it. So, you know. I’m not saying it’s ever OK to be tossed, but he had a valid point, and he had a reason for it.”

Lakers fall apart in the second half

The Lakers played a good first half, trailing the Suns just 54-52 at the intermission.

The Lakers shot 44.9% from the field and 35.3% from three-point range in the first 24 minutes.

But in the second half, the Lakers were not very good.

They shot 31.6% from the field and an awful 5.6% (one-for-18) from three-point range.

“Probably more than anything that hurt us was offensively we got really stagnant,” Fizdale said. “And [the Suns] do that to teams. You watch them on film and they get teams to stand. They get teams to hold and I thought in the second half that was the difference. Our offense stalled out.”

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