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Lakers collapse down the stretch again in ugly loss to Pacers

Caris LeVert dominated L.A. in the fourth quarter as Frank Vogel’s old team won its first road game against the Lakers in nearly seven years.

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NBA: Indiana Pacers at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In their first game since word leaked that Frank Vogel’s seat was reportedly white-hot, the Lakers jumped out to an early lead but once again utterly collapsed in the second half to lose to the Indiana Pacers — Vogel’s former team — 111-104. It’s the first time the Pacers have won at Staples Center Crypto.com Arena since 2015, when Vogel was still patrolling the sidelines for Indiana.

Despite Vogel returning Dwight Howard to the starting lineup and the Pacers missing one-time reported Lakers trade target Myles Turner, Indiana still thrived in the paint. This was especially true down the stretch as L.A.’s aging roster ran out of steam in crunch time. Caris LeVert simply could not be stopped late, as the NBA’s worst crunch-time team was able to put away the Lakers thanks to LeVert’s 30-point performance capped off by a dominant fourth quarter in which he scored 24 points.

After a two-game break from the 30-point threshold, LeBron James crossed it again on Wednesday, finishing with 30 points and 12 rebounds but his defense was noticeably absent down the stretch, and the King finished a team-worst -22. Russell Westbrook finished with 14 points but went 4-6 from three, his first game with at least three 3-pointers since Nov. 23 at New York. He still finished just 5-17 overall from the field, however, continuing his ice-cold shooting of late.

Carmelo Anthony made his return to the rotation after missing the previous three games with back soreness and instantly provided a needed scoring spark to the Lakers’ bench with 14 points, but struggled from three-point range, going 0-5 from deep. Talen Horton-Tucker was probably the biggest silver lining in this one among all Lakers players, dropping 20 points on 9-14 shooting, along with 7 assists and a team-high +12.

After such an encouraging win over a good Utah Jazz team on Monday, it’s an especially painful gut punch in a season full of them to see the Lakers collapse this embarrassingly and lose this badly to one of the worst Indiana Pacers teams in years. As many have pointed out on this site, in our podcast network and pretty much everywhere else on the basketball internet, it’s hard to fault Vogel significantly for that or expect his firing to fix much of anything. This roster may have looked good on paper, but its perceived strengths on offense never materialized nearly enough to compensate for its massive weaknesses on defense.

Yes, it’s an especially bad fit for a defensive specialist like Vogel, whose best-coached teams — which, ironically, were part of the two franchises playing tonight — imposed their will on defense and let the offense flow from there. But neither Phil Handy nor David Fizdale nor Mike Penberthy can wave a magic wand and change this roster back into one that fit so well like Vogel’s 2019-20 squad. And no, neither can Rob Pelinka. There’s no savior coming via the trade market even if the Lakers do make significant changes. The season, as many Lakers fans have probably realized by now, is pretty much lost barring a miracle that becomes less and less possible to even imagine with each passing defeat. The only thing that seems far more likely right now is the imminent firing of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first title-winning head coach since Phil Jackson.

The Lakers picked up right where they left off from Monday’s win early on, scoring 32 points in the first quarter thanks to some lucky shooting and another welcome burst of energy from the starting lineup. But Indiana clawed back from what was a 14-point Lakers lead midway through the second quarter, going on a run just before halftime and continuing that momentum into the second half as the Lakers started to cool off. Though the teams went back and forth in the third quarter, it only delayed the purple and gold’s inevitable collapse. Now, we wait to see what the fallout is for Vogel and the coaching staff after a loss like this to a sub-.500 team.

The Lakers start a road trip on Friday, heading to Orlando to face the Magic with tip-off at 4 p.m. PST on Thursday. We’ll have to see whether Vogel will stick around long enough to face another of his former teams in that one.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinGreen44.