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More grumbling by Lakers after frustrating finish in loss to Clippers

Lakers center Dwight Howard strikes Clippers forward Robert Covington in the face while battling for a rebound.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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Off-court confusion. On-court confusion. And certainty, that no matter how much people have spoken about things changing this season, the Lakers are doomed to being just like this.

After a week of drama triggered by a series of comments made by LeBron James during All-Star weekend, the on-court return didn’t offer any answers and merely shifted attention to an old, reliable type of issue — the team’s inability to consistently win.

Following a series of officiating reviews that slowed the fourth quarter to a glacial pace, the Lakers lost to the Clippers 105-102 — a loss that could have significant implications with the two teams closely connected in the standings.

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A very upset Lakers coach Frank Vogel called the decisions “B.S.” — his issue with a final-minute review that took the ball from the Lakers with a chance to lead and gave it to the Clippers.

After Russell Westbrook missed a go-ahead shot, James grabbed the ball and tried to save it, with the Clippers’ Robert Covington swatting the ball out of bounds. Vogel called a timeout with nine seconds on the shot clock to call a play, but the Clippers challenged the call — specifically whether James was out of bounds or not.

“It definitely impacted the moment,” James said.

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Feb. 25, 2022

Vogel passionately argued afterward that the two plays weren’t connected — James being out and Covington being out — and that the Clippers shouldn’t have been able to challenge a play (James being out of bounds) when it had passed and play had continued.

“I disagree strongly with the ruling,” he said. “…It’s just wrong.”

A lengthy replay ruling confirmed that James stepped out of bounds before saving the ball.

“I’ve never seen that,” James said.

The Lakers did win another challenge in the final 30 seconds, this one eventually leading to an eight-second violation for the Clippers with another video review in the middle of it. That led the Lakers to getting another chance to take the lead, but Carmelo Anthony’s three-pointer with the team down one badly missed.

“Just trying to get a good look,” Anthony said. “…I missed it. It is what it is.”

After two Clippers free throws, the Lakers had another chance, but James’ potential game-tying three didn’t fall.

James finished with 21 points on six-for-18 shooting with six turnovers. Westbrook and Anthony each added 18 points.

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“Not good enough,” Westbrook said.

That, explicitly, has been the talk over the last week after James had the NBA buzzing throughout the All-Star break — whether potentially veiled criticisms of Lakers management or very real thoughts about potentially leaving the Lakers and maybe even returning to Cleveland before he retires.

For a team excited to give everyone something new to talk about, it ultimately was more of the same.

Dismissed as “just noise” by a member of the team’s senior management, the situation was serious enough so that James’ agent, Rich Paul, met with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka, sources confirmed to The Times.

The meeting, which was first reported by ESPN, was to reiterate James’ commitment to the Lakers, who have him under contract for this season and next, and to clear up any perceived issues between the sides.

Lakers forward LeBron James attempts a layup while defended by Clippers guard Luke Kennard and center Isaiah Hartenstein.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t understand how some of my comments over the weekend were taken to a whole different area,” James said, claiming that his words were twisted.

The Lakers’ problems, especially with no game action to offset any of them, took center stage and, at least externally, dominated the break.

“I think that for us, internally, we’re not paying as much attention to this stuff as you all are in the media,” Vogel said before Friday’s game. “We’re all excited to just get back on the floor and make this push. We have 24 games to make this run and try to improve our place in the standings and we haven’t really worried about all that stuff, just taking advantage of the time to get away and taking a break.”

But that excitement quickly faded, the Lakers falling behind by as many as 16 before a furious, third-quarter comeback set the stage for the team to stumble in the fourth.

“This is a game we’re supposed to win,” Anthony said.

And it’s another one they didn’t.

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