When the Los Angeles Lakers announced that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would miss Friday’s nationally televised matchup with the Charlotte Hornets due to their respective knee and wrist injuries, few expected the team to have much of a chance at keeping things close. But while L.A. came up short in the end, they showed an honestly unexpected level of fight in Charlotte, narrowly falling 117-114 to the Hornets after a second half surge from Russell Westbrook allowed the team to fight to the end.
The Lakers went down 18-5 to start the game as their starting lineup of DeAndre Jordan, Stanley Johnson, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington and Westbrook looked predictably lifeless, but reserves Kent Bazemore, Talen Horton-Tucker, Austin Reaves, Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza helped the team rally back to within two points in the second quarter before the starters got blown off the floor again to enter halftime down 65-49.
When the Hornets then took that halftime advantage and ran it out to as big as much as 20 points in the third quarter, it looked like the Lakers were set to pack it in and hope to get their stars back next game. Instead, the team showed impressive fight behind that same small-ball group of reserves — with Westbrook leading the charge — and cut the deficit to 87-85 entering the fourth and final frame.
Unfortunately for L.A., they just didn’t have enough talent to keep up in the fourth quarter, with an And-1 from Miles Bridges on a bang-bang block-charge call — that the Lakers lost the challenge on — that put the Hornets up 111-102 essentially the final nail in the coffin, pushing them just far ahead enough that the purple and gold couldn’t quite make it up.
The now 28-22 Hornets are hardly a juggernaut, but they’re better than this shorthanded Lakers group, even without Gordon Hayward. Westbrook (who finished with a game-high 35 points) did his best to keep the Lakers in it with some absolutely ridiculous shotmaking down the stretch, but came up just short, missing a three with just seconds left that would have won the game.
But Westbrook and the rest of the purple and gold showed admirable grit on Friday, and while there are no moral victories this late in the season for a team that started the year with this level of expectation, it has to be at least a little encouraging for the team’s collective mental state that they didn’t throw in the towel entirely.
Westbrook made history — and nearly drove his Jumpman boss into a fit of rage — in the process:
Russell Westbrook - first Laker with 30 in a half since Kobe's 38 in his final game. First time Russell had 30 in a half since 3/7/17 via Lakers PR stat man @noahcamarena— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) January 29, 2022
Michael Jordan couldn’t believe Hornets almost blew lead. pic.twitter.com/1bfYzsiqxj— House of Highlights (@HoHighlights) January 29, 2022
A few other quick takeaways from this one...
The Lakers’ undrafted rookie has been in a real shooting slump lately, making just five of his last 25 shots (20%) coming into tonight’s game. Against the Hornets, he played with the aggressiveness the team has been looking for, scoring 16 points on 6-12 shooting to go with 8 rebounds.
Even if he makes a few less shots moving forward, him just being willing to fire away will be helpful for this team moving forward, as defenses having to play him for his shot will open up his already excellent nose for facilitating even more.
Where was this version of Kent Bazemore?
Kent Bazemore has been out of the Lakers’ regular rotation for months, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him on Friday. Freed from the threat of a quick hook, Bazemore went out and shot the leather off the ball in the first half, ultimately finishing with 13 points on 4-7 shooting while playing mostly solid defense.
It’s just one game against a brutal first quarter of the year, but if this is the version of Bazemore the Lakers can get down the stretch, he just might just have a role to play on this team yet.
Why on earth did DeAndre Jordan play this much?
In a game this unexpectedly close, it’s fair to wonder if the team may have had a better shot had they started — or even just used — Dwight Howard over the previously out-of-the-rotation DeAndre Jordan.
Ultimately I’m reticent to criticize coaching too much in this one, as it’s not really reasonable to have expected a Lakers group missing its two stars to pull out a road win on the second night of a back-to-back. Even if this team needs all the victories it can get, there just may not have realistically been a coaching lever that could have fully put them over the top on this night.
Still, it’s hard to win an NBA game while playing DeAndre Jordan 20 minutes in 2022, much less starting him. It just is. Frank Vogel did not offer much of an explanation for it after the game, mostly just saying that he wanted to give guys who were out of the rotation a chance to give the Lakers a boost, but Jordan finished a team-low -14 in plus-minus and missed two of his eight free-throw attempts in a game the Lakers lost by three.
Here was Frank Vogel's full quote on DJ, Baze, Ariza, Wayne and the rest of the Lakers. pic.twitter.com/t8AYr1uhhk— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 29, 2022
So especially given that Howard was not on the injury report, it’s fair to wonder why Jordan got the nod tonight, and how many more chances he realistically deserves to fail after wasting most of the first half of the year clogging up the paint as a starter.
This loss drops the Lakers to 24-26 on the season, and the team will now get Saturday off before wrapping up their current road trip with a matchup against the Hawks in Atlanta.