The Lakers led for three and a half quarters but faded down the stretch, as Ja Morant led a fourth-quarter comeback to beat L.A. 104-99. The purple and gold dropped to 17-19 with the loss despite another phenomenal scoring performance from LeBron James and triple-double from Russell Westbrook.
On the eve of his 37th birthday, James caught fire from three-point range, finishing with 37 points. He tied a career-high with eight made three-pointers on 14 attempts, but also failed to get a shot off and turned the ball over in a disastrous final Lakers possession where a three could have tied the game.
Westbrook had his third triple-double in as many games with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. The Lakers had success punishing Memphis in the paint until late, but Russ also missed a crucial layup with two minutes to go that would have brought L.A. within one.
The Lakers led for the entirety of the first three quarters and extended that lead into double digits several times, but Memphis kept hanging around and tied it early in the fourth quarter after a 13-0 run. James found Westbrook for two open layups and hit another deep three-pointer to put the Lakers back in the lead. Again though, Memphis roared back with a 9-0 run led by Morant and refused to give up the lead from there, as Morant gutted through a sore shoulder after a hard fall late in the fourth.
The Grizzlies’ budding superstar continued to torch the Lakers, keeping his team in the game and never letting his confidence waver until he simply took over the game in crunch time. Morant finished with 41 points in his first game against L.A. since he dropped 40 points in Memphis’s loss to the Lakers on Oct. 24.
Among the silver linings for the Lakers, newcomer Stanley Johnson continued to give L.A. a much-needed lift on defense, disrupting passes, helping clog the paint and just generally providing energy off the bench. Given that the Southern California native helps address the Lakers’ most pressing roster need as a big, athletic wing who can make things just a bit easier for James and Anthony on defense with Trevor Ariza still in health and safety protocols and Anthony Davis out for several more weeks, Johnson is quickly making a case to stay on the team past his initial 10-day contract.
Still, this was one of the more embarrassing losses in a season full of them. Morant is a special player, but James is still playing like the all-time great that he is. The Lakers just continue to make too many careless mistakes on both ends of the floor, underscored tonight by their 18 turnovers.
The Lakers will get an off day as LeBron celebrates another trip around the sun before returning home to play Portland on New Year’s Eve. Tip-off from Crypto.com Arena is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT Friday on Spectrum Sportsnet.