Given that they were on the second night of a back-to-back and the team’s much-discussed advancing age, it isn’t really a surprise that the Lakers looked mostly lifeless against the Clippers for much of Thursday night. But given how shorthanded their co-tenants at the Crypt also are, it was thought that the purple and gold might still have a chance at picking up their second win in a row.
For parts of the night, they were on track to have a real shot at it. After a back-and-forth first half, the Lakers were only down 60-54. But after veteran forward Carmelo Anthony was sidelined with a hamstring injury late in the second quarter, the Lakers came out of halftime looking completely deflated, getting outscored 14-6 to open the third quarter before ultimately falling 111-110 after a late comeback allowed them to get close before falling just short once again, with Anthony Davis’ floater in transition missing at the buzzer.
Just needed 1 stop down the stretch! Bros battled though on the 2nd night of a b2b— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 4, 2022
This loss dropped the Lakers to 25-28, three games below .500. That’s tied for the furthest below that mark they have been this season.
Davis continued his stellar run of late, and was the only reason the Lakers were even in this one for most of the night. He repeatedly battered the undersized Clippers on the glass for second-chance points and lobs, finishing with 30 points on 12-24 shooting while snatching 17 rebounds, but he got next to no help for much of the evening.
At this point, though, the Lakers losing without LeBron James isn’t that surprising. This is mostly just what they do. It was the way they lost, however, that had to be kind of dispiriting for anyone still looking for signs of life or growth from this group.
Ever since Ty Lue has taken over as head coach of the Clippers, he has made no secret of his preference to send hard double teams and traps at Davis in the post, especially when James isn’t on the floor. He even told the TNT broadcast team as much pregame. The Lakers, though, looked like they had no idea what to do in such scenarios for three quarters, a particularly damning indictment of either the coaching staff, the players’ attention to detail, their desire, or all three.
The Lakers are not a good team at this point without their central star, but even they should have had enough to beat this Clippers squad, who are missing both their stars, but are still somehow ahead of them (27-27) in the standings.
In a game they ended up rallying in late to make much closer than it was following the third frame — after Trevor Ariza’s insertion in Carmelo Anthony’s place injected the team with enough life to go on a 12-0 run to open the fourth — their earlier lack of verve left them so little margin for error that they basically had to play perfect basketball down the stretch. For parts of the fourth, they did, even getting some of the off-ball movement and timely shooting they had lacked earlier in the game. But it was too little, too late, even with Davis, Westbrook and Malik Monk hitting some truly sensational shots down the stretch.
Malik Monk on why the Lakers were "lethargic" in the third quarter against the Clippers: We talk about it every day we're together, why does it happen. And we don't know. We're tired of talking about it. We gotta figure it out.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 4, 2022
It was the kind of fake comeback these Lakers have perfected this season. And if they hadn’t dealt themselves so many self-inflicted wounds earlier in the evening, maybe things would have been different. Unfortunately for them, such “maybes” may ultimately define this season. They certainly did tonight.
The Lakers will now get Friday off to recover before hosting the New York Knicks at home on Sunday. Given the increasing optimism around James’ status, maybe they’ll have some reinforcements for that one. But until he’s back, no game can be assumed to be winnable for this mismatched, ragged and almost perpetually unfocused group.