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Lakers’ four-game winning streak ends with a thud against Grizzlies

Lakers guard Wayne Ellington, right, knocks the ball away from Memphis Grizzlies guard Ziaire Williams.
Lakers guard Wayne Ellington, right, knocks the ball away from Memphis Grizzlies guard Ziaire Williams during the second half of the Lakers’ 127-119 loss Sunday.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
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LeBron James took the pass and determinedly bounced the ball three times with his left hand before a slippery crossover dribble left Kyle “Slow-Mo” Anderson positive that he has the proper nickname. The Lakers’ 37-year-old star jetted into the paint, jumped and cocked the ball back before a ferocious dunk on Jaren Jackson Jr.

It cut the Memphis lead to 20.

That James was spectacular — and he was as good as ever Sunday night against the Grizzlies — only served to contrast how miserable every other player in a Laker uniform was.

The scorching Malik Monk dramatically cooled and could barely connect. The recently dependable Avery Bradley couldn’t get the ball through the basket. And Russell Westbrook’s impact on the game would’ve been impossible to spot if his missed jumpers weren’t so wildly off target.

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The day the Lakers picked up Avery Bradley’s $2.6-million contract for the rest of the season, the guard made key contributions in a win over Atlanta.

James did some of everything on offense, winning above the rim and bailing his team out with wild, one-handed push shots from three-point range to beat the shot clock. He scored 35 points on 14-for-19 shooting. The other four starters? They combined to miss 31 shots against only eight makes.

But the Lakers’ flaws were too apparent, at least somewhat exposed by an opponent with little fear, of their older and slower competition. The Lakers lost 127-119, a game in which they trailed by as many as 29 after allowing the Grizzlies to score 80 points combined in the second and third quarters.

The tone was set at the top — of the backboard — by the Grizzlies’ star.

Ja Morant ran down the court after Bradley, gathering his feet underneath himself and launching into the air. As he violently hurled toward the backboard, Morant reached up and snatched Bradley’s shot with two hands as it climbed past the midway point of the glass.

“That was a special play from a special player,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

James, a master of the chase-down blocked shot, said he saw what Morant was going to do — but didn’t know it was going to look like that.

“He’s got rockets in his calf muscles,” James said. “And it was a spectacular play. It was a great play. Salute.”

Unlike James, Morant had help — more than he needed — allowing him to concentrate on the handful of highlight plays he uncorked, such as the two-handed dunk he had to sky for early in the third as Memphis began to pull away.

Desmond Bane, the Grizzlies’ second-year guard, battled with James and appeared to get under his skin, standing up to the bigger, older and more accomplished player in leading six Grizzlies in double figures with 23 points.

It’s the Grizzlies’ ninth straight win despite missing center Steven Adams, guard Dillon Brooks and coach Taylor Jenkins.

The Lakers closed within single digits in the fourth quarter thanks to a furious comeback started by Wayne Ellington and capped by Austin Reaves, forcing Memphis to put Morant and its other starters back into the game.

At least Anthony Davis was spotted on the court before the game going through an individual workout, the first time he’s done so publicly since spraining a knee ligament against Minnesota on Dec. 17. Davis moved well on the injured leg despite wearing a bulky brace on the knee.

Sources said the brace was merely precautionary and that the prognosis for Davis’ recovery is still good. The Lakers are scheduled to provide an update on Davis’ recovery as early as this weekend, though his return isn’t expected to closely follow.

The loss Sunday ended a stretch in which the Lakers had won four straight games, embracing a small-ball style that helped them finally build some rhythm after such a disjointed first half of the year. But those wins weren’t exactly against the league’s best, and against Memphis, the difference showed.

After struggling to take advantage of a front-loaded schedule against losing teams or winning ones missing their best players, the Lakers are set to see the other side of that coin with games against the best teams in the NBA awaiting them over the next 41.

That stretch includes a lot of travel too, with the Lakers set to play only two more home games this month.

They’ll play in Denver, Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia before the month is through with No. 3 Utah one of the two teams they’ll see in Los Angeles.

Are they ready to be the kind of winning team they’ve flashed at times against weaker teams when they see contenders coming more rapidly in their future?

“I don’t have the answer to that one,” Westbrook said.


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