Lakers-Raptors takeaways: Sluggish offense, late rally, yet another loss
Another slow start, plenty of frustration, a sort-of comeback and no real good answers, Monday’s 114-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors was more of the same for the Lakers.
Here are four observations from the loss.
LeBron goes silent
LeBron James scored 30 points, moving closer to passing Karl Malone for the No. 2 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He should accomplish that some time on the team’s upcoming four-game trip.
Following the loss Monday, James declined to speak to reporters — a rarity for him. Since he didn’t speak for himself, you can make some safe speculations about what he saw on the court Monday night and what he didn’t want to say out loud.
James, a game-time decision to play because of a sore left knee, played 40 minutes on the second night of back-to-back games as the Lakers desperately try to build some momentum in the final month of the season. Yet a miserable start, horrible body language and visible frustration from James highlighted the Lakers’ problems that are probably unfixable.
LeBron James scored 30 points, but the Lakers had a second consecutive ugly first quarter en route to a 114-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Monday.
Now with the team 10 games under .500 and James putting together one of his best offensive seasons ever, he’s got to be feeling like this is a waste. The individual chase for the scoring crown is going well. The losing, though, is unlike anything he’s experienced since the earliest days of his career.
The first problem
After the Lakers allowed an embarrassing 48 points in the first quarter to the Suns on Sunday night in Phoenix, you had to know the team would be focused on getting off to a strong start.
Instead, they fell behind by 24 points 10 minutes into the game, the offense completely ineffective and the defense totally exposed.
The Lakers would end the quarter down 33-12.
“It’s almost like every game, we put ourselves in a hole,” Talen Horton-Tucker said.
Pregame, coach Frank Vogel talked about the mental strain these giant holes have put on his team. For a group that’s struggled to play high-quality basketball, being forced to rally after brutal stretches of play almost guarantees a loss.
“Really during this stretch, it’s been one quarter — it’s been the second quarter, the third quarter, the last two games it’s been the first quarter — we just can’t put the ball in the basket,” Vogel said. “When you’re not making shots and they’re getting the live rebound or a turnover, live ball turnover, it’s tough to set your defense. I think our effort was good to start, but … our offense was putting us in a tough spot.”
Did things actually get better?
The Lakers would cut their deficit to single digits late in the game Monday thanks to a furious comeback midway through the fourth quarter.
“Our guys stuck with the game and they keep fighting. They’re fighting through a tough season. And we’re not letting go of the rope,” Vogel said. “We do keep getting down, but it’s from not making enough shots, not executing well enough. But our guys are still fighting.”
Meet Red Auerbach, Larry Bird and the city of Boston: the villains of HBO’s “Winning Time” and real-life nemeses of the Los Angeles Lakers.
But do these stretches actually mean anything or is this more about opponents slightly stepping off the gas? The Lakers have hung on to these moments as they’ve looked for reasons to stay invested in the season, and, at least publicly, that’s the path they’re staying on.
“You don’t quit,” Russell Westbrook said. “You just compete.”
So what now?
The Lakers are committed to playing small-ball lineups, but there may be some wiggle room in Vogel’s rotations.
Wenyen Gabriel struggled from the field — he was one-of-eight shooting — but the things he does are so sorely missed that even on a night like that, he looks like someone who needs to be on the court.
“I like the energy that Wenyen brings to our team,’ Vogel said. “He plays super hard and has a pure attitude and is long and athletic. We need that type of length and athleticism at the forward position.”
Ideally, they’d be getting that from someone better equipped to help a playoff team challenge for a title, but the Lakers are going to have to settle for what a two-way player can give them.
Then there’s Wayne Ellington, who led the team with a plus-21 rating in his minutes Monday. While Vogel has said other wings have better two-way potential, maybe it’s time to take a player with a needed skill — shooting — and live with the other problems it might cause.
God knows there are plenty of them, so what’s one more?
When: 5 p.m. PDT, Wednesday
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Update: Karl-Anthony Towns had 60 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves (40-30) to a win over the Spurs in San Antonio on Monday. Minnesota, which has won eight of its last 10 games, trails sixth-place Denver by 1 1/2 games. The Lakers (29-39), who have lost two straight and have only won twice in the last 10 games, have listed LeBron James (knee) as questionable and Talen Horton-Tucker as probable.
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