Lakers blow 20-point halftime lead, lose to Pelicans and fall to 10th place in West
On the outside of the Superdome, across the street from where the Lakers suffered their latest basketball indignities, the words “The road ends here” are printed in giant letters — a phrase meant to celebrate the college basketball teams that will play in the Final Four in this city next weekend.
Inside the building where the Lakers blew a 20-point halftime lead before losing to New Orleans 116-108, the signs were even more obvious.
LeBron James, the Lakers’ best hope to salvage their season, limped badly through the hallways, a new injury threatening to push the Lakers’ postseason hopes into full-fledged delusion.
All the talk about the progress the Lakers had been making over the last week, the optimism that Anthony Davis could return soon and that Russell Westbrook was settling in, all got erased with another misstep.
This week’s Lakers newsletter examines final stretch of the regular season and whether Anthony Davis will help get team into NBA play-in tournament.
The ankle, James said, feels “horrible.” And the losing? That “feels like s—.”
“I mean, excuse my language,” he said, “but that’s what it feels like.”
In one of their biggest games of their season, the Lakers fighting for their postseason lives, the team wasted a dominant first half and crumbled when the Pelicans fought back in the second, exposing the best and, more importantly, the worst in who they are as a team.
“We are who we are,” James said.
And that’s a basketball team, despite having four of the NBA’s best 75 players ever, that’s barely clinging to the 10th-best record in its conference. With Sunday’s loss, the Lakers are half a game behind New Orleans for ninth and only one game ahead of San Antonio for the final spot in the NBA’s play-in tournament.
The Lakers have eight games left and one of the hardest remaining schedules in the league.
“Time’s running out,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We gotta get some wins.”
The Lakers treated Sunday’s game like it was a big one, and for most of the first half, they dominated. They opened the game by scoring 12 straight points, James scoring 10 while smothering the Pelicans with defensive intensity normally reserved for the playoffs.
But early in the second quarter, James landed on the foot of New Orleans’ Jaxson Hayes, rolling his left ankle. After the game, James took out his phone to show reporters the play in slow motion.
“I have no idea how I finished the game, to be honest, after watching that replay,” James said. “It’s pretty nasty.”
He scored 39 points — 25 coming in the first half when he made six three-pointers. But James’ mobility clearly was affected. And as the Lakers cooled off offensively, their defensive intensity waned.
And soon, the game totally flipped.
“It’s just a microcosm of our season,” James said. “Sustain. We haven’t been able to sustain all year and tonight was one of those instances once again.”
New Orleans outscored the Lakers 67-39 in the second half, Brandon Ingram finishing with 26 points and rookie Trey Murphy III scoring 21 off the bench.
Westbrook had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Malik Monk scored 23, but the Lakers shot just 39% in the second half, including only three for 16 from three-point range.
“They weren’t doing anything special defensively,” Westbrook said. “We can score if we want, if we continue to play the right way, which I didn’t think we did in the second half for the most part.”
He declined to say what the Lakers needed to be doing instead, saying he’d see it when he watched film.
Stanley Johnson scored 13 points on five-for-seven shooting and added five rebounds and eight assists in the Lakers’ loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
But some of it doesn’t need any further examination. Like the way James hobbled on the court and later in the back hallways, it was obvious.
After playing one half in which they looked active, the Lakers looked old and slow. The ball stopped moving just like their feet. And their turnovers — 15 of them — led to 21 points.
“That’s a tough loss,” Vogel said.
And while Davis’ return is imminent — before the game Vogel said he’ll be ramping up on-court activity — the Lakers’ problems have a way of continuing to find them right at the worst moments.
“It feels like a wasted opportunity, obviously, for myself and for our team,” James said. “We weren’t able to get it done.”
It’s not a new feeling for the Lakers, and it’s one they’ll feel if their road ends sooner than they hoped.
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