LeBron James and Anthony Davis fade like Lakers’ play-in hopes in loss to Pelicans
The Lakers just wanted a shot. Friday, they had one.
In a moment that fits this season as well as any, LeBron James pumped and pumped, creating the tiniest of windows with a chance for the Lakers to tie a score and extend their season.
It was an airball.
For the second time in a week, the Lakers had a chance to greatly improve their position in the postseason caboose. And for the second time in a week, this season looks off the rails.
The Lakers lost to the Pelicans 114-111 Friday night at home, the same night where Anthony Davis and James rejoined their lineup. They led by as many as six in the fourth and by five with five minutes to go before fumbling the game away with missed shots, turnovers, clanked free throws and blown defensive possessions.
With everyone back, this was the Lakers team Frank Vogel had been waiting for. And with mistake after mistake, it was crystal clear that this was the Lakers team Vogel always has had.
“They just made more plays than us,” Vogel said.
With everyone, save for Carmelo Anthony and Kendrick Nunn available, that would be unfathomable — the Lakers starting four locks for the Hall of Fame in James, Davis, Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard.
Davis, out since right before the All-Star break, returned and hit his first shot of the game. He scored 23 to go with 12 rebounds and six assists. But he missed all but one of his five shots in the fourth. James, who was questionable up until his pregame workout, scored just two in the fourth after scoring 36 in the first three quarters.
Westbrook, after three rough quarters to open the game with missed shots and foul trouble, scored 10 in the fourth.
The numbers all added up to another loss, the mathematics facing the Lakers over the next week presenting real problems for a play-in berth.
They trail San Antonio by one game for 10th in the West after the Spurs won Friday. San Antonio also owns the tiebreaker with the Lakers.
The Lakers finish their season with Denver, Phoenix, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Denver again. The Spurs play Portland, Denver, Minnesota, Golden State and Dallas.
Somehow, the Lakers, who haven’t won consecutive games since early January, need to win two more than San Antonio does to earn the final spot in the NBA’s postseason play-in tournament.
After an April Fool’s tweet earlier in the day announcing he was done for the season, James came onto the court about an hour before tip Friday night in all black, grabbing a ball and quickly moving into a pregame workout with assistant Phil Handy.
He cut left and planted, effortlessly shooting his jumper, only briefly stopping to stomp his injured left ankle on the floor while he grimaced.
He missed consecutive threes and unloaded some rapid-fire curse words. He made his next shot.
For three quarters, he looked unbothered. In the fourth, as he struggled, the Lakers sank deeper into despair, hopes of hosting a play-in tournament game erased with the loss.
When the format was announced, James bashed the idea. Now, the slim hopes of getting in are the only thing keeping the Lakers technically alive for the playoffs.
Friday, the Lakers opened the game hot from the field, hitting 10 of their first 13 shots. But despite all the makes, carelessness with the ball kept New Orleans attached, the Lakers leading by only one following that stretch.
“We had an opportunity to separate and we weren’t able to,” Vogel said.
The two teams stayed in a tight game from there to the finish, with 15 ties, 13 lead changes and the Lakers’ six-point lead the biggest of the game for either team.
In the wake of another baffling loss, the Lakers are acutely aware that they are running out of time to win games and show they deserve a playoff shot.
While James caught fire in the third and scored 21 points, New Orleans always responded. And when Westbrook hit back-to-back threes in the fourth to bring the crowd to its feet, the Pelicans calmly rebounded.
In the fourth, New Orleans hit nine of 11 from the free-throw line. The Lakers missed half of their eight tries.
Possession after possession in winning time, the Pelicans looked poised. The Lakers looked rattled. And the hole they’ve been digging since opening night? It got only deeper.
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