Lakers don’t measure up against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks
When asked about the Milwaukee Bucks the day before, LeBron James balked at the idea that Tuesday’s game between the teams would be a chance for the Lakers to figure out where they stood in the NBA hierarchy.
“We know where we are right now,” he said somberly.
They’re stuck, mediocrity caked all over this team 55 games into a season in which success could be achieved only with a championship and everything else means failure to one degree or another.
It was more of the same Tuesday, the Lakers losing to the Bucks 131-116 two days before the NBA’s trade deadline. With teams behind them in the standings making moves to try to push them out of the postseason, the Lakers quickly fell behind by double digits before a late flurry made things briefly interesting.
It didn’t matter — not changing where the Lakers are right now even in the slightest.
Earlier Tuesday, the Sacramento Kings added All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis. The New Orleans Pelicans traded for 20-point scorer C.J. McCollum. And the Lakers, mostly saddled with the roster they have, were badly beaten by one of the NBA’s best teams, the game never really being in question.
With the NBA trade deadline Thursday, the Lakers and Clippers are actively seeking to make some moves. L.A. Times NBA reporters weigh their options.
It ended with James on the bench, his sneakers already off, sitting next to Anthony Davis. Russell Westbrook came over, patted James on the head and Davis on the shoulder.
“I told them I wished I could help them,” Westbrook said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the game to be able to help them. And that’s why I came here, to be able to help them out. … But that’s not my call.”
Westbrook, while saying he would “live with it and move on” in regards to coach Frank Vogel’s decisions, made it clear he feels consistency is what the Lakers need most.
They had some Tuesday — getting blown out at home in the first half for the second straight game. But unlike their comeback against the lowly Knicks, the Lakers were outclassed by the Bucks.
They allowed 38 points to Milwaukee in the first quarter only to outdo themselves by giving up 40 in the second.
“Our energy, as a group, isn’t good right now,” Vogel said.
For a defense-minded coach like Vogel, it was frustrating.
“Terrible defense,” he said.
The Lakers eventually tightened the score to 10 points in the fourth quarter with a chance to get even closer, but by then, it would’ve required something miraculous to undo all the damage the Bucks inflicted.
Westbrook, once again, struggled, making just three of 10 from the field. He did grab 10 rebounds — and Vogel said he played better than he did Saturday — but the coach kept Westbrook on the bench while Malik Monk and Austin Reaves played the backcourt minutes for most of the fourth.
Vogel said his decision was based simply on rolling with a group that had cut the Bucks’ lead to 10, but on the heels of two previous benchings in the last month, Westbrook spoke out.
“I’ve earned the right to be in closing lineups,” Westbrook said. “But once again, it ain’t my decision.”
Some of the consistency Westbrook’s craved has been impossible. Carmelo Anthony worked out on his injured hamstring Tuesday but was unable to play and won’t play Wednesday in Portland. Dwight Howard, who missed his second straight game with a tight back, is questionable.
While injuries and health problems haven’t been the only
issues, guard Kendrick Nunn’s season-long absence certainly has been a big factor.
One of two players on the roster who has neither a maximum nor a minimum deal, Nunn has yet to play this season because of a bone bruise in his right knee. Before the game, Vogel said Nunn’s return — if it happens — likely won’t be until March at the earliest.
“We’re still optimistic that he plays for us this year,” Vogel said.
But even the most optimistic projections for Nunn can’t undo the problems the Bucks easily exposed Tuesday, a one-sided loss in which the Lakers looked to be in the game only deep into the fourth quarter with the result pretty well decided.
The team had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the two-time most valuable player hitting his first 11 shots on his way to a 44-point game. Khris Middleton scored all 21 of his points in the first half, and even though the Lakers made half their shots in that span, they still trailed by 22 at halftime.
James scored 27 in his second game back from a knee injury, and while the Lakers pushed to get back into the game, they couldn’t fend off any drama, Westbrook again sitting on the bench watching his teammates try to win the game — just like he did in overtime on Saturday.
The New Orleans Pelicans have acquired guard C.J. McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a seven-player trade ahead of Thursday deadline.
When: 7 p.m.
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Update: The Lakers, trying to rebound from a bad loss to the Bucks on short rest, will see a very different version of the Trail Blazers than the one they beat last week, Portland having dealt Norman Powell, Robert Covington and McCollum.
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