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Without LeBron James, Lakers falter late vs. Spurs

As LeBron James sat out with knee soreness, the Lakers saw their one-game winning streak snapped against the San Antonio Spurs.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

With LeBron James sidelined with left knee soreness, the Lakers were forced into super small ball on Monday in San Antonio against the Spurs, but could not make it work eventually falling 117-110.

As both James and Anthony Davis watched from the bench — and with DeAndre Jordan having been waived last week — the Lakers were left with only one center on the roster in Dwight Howard, which forced the team into many ultra-small lineups. Unsurprisingly, a lack of stops defensive plagued the team all night long and prohibited them from making lengthy runs.

Offensively, a host of Lakers stepped up in James’ absence with five Lakers scoring in double figures. Talen Horton-Tucker led the way with 18 points on 7-14 shooting from the field while Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk all had 17 points apiece.

Dejounte Murray crushed the Lakers on the other end by living at the rim, scoring 26 points on 12-20 shooting from the field. Jakob Poeltl had 18 points and seven rebounds, five of them offensive, while Josh Richardson chipped in 18 points as well.

Considering the circumstances of not having James available on top of Davis, the Lakers did about as well as could have been asked. An offense-by-committee approach saw a number of players step up on the night and helped keep them in the game into the final minute. But defense, which the team has struggled so mightily with this season, cost them once again, as San Antonio shot 54.8% from the field on the night. Only 53.3% shooting at the line by the Spurs allowed the Lakers to remain in the game as long as they did.

The loss does have playoff-seeding implications, as the Spurs are one of the teams that could catch the Lakers in the play-in game. With the loss, the Lakers lead New Orleans by just one game for the ninth seed, while San Antonio moves to 3.5 games back of the Lakers. The Blazers sit between them at three games back into the 11th seed. The loss also prevents the Lakers from winning the series as it finishes 2-2 in the four games this season, which could prove to be a vital tiebreaker at the season’s end if the Spurs do catch up.

A very, very small Lakers lineup saw a host of contributors score the opening nine points. An aggressive Westbrook got to the rim repeatedly to draw fouls in the early going, but hit just one of his first four free throws as the Lakers trailed through the early stages of the game.

The Lakers continued to replace James’ production by committee with six players combining for the team’s first seven field goals with Anthony’s 3-pointer tying the game at 18-18. But as much as the Lakers spread out the scoring — and despite the Spurs turning the ball over six times in the opening period — San Antonio still shot 60.9% from the field in the opening frame to lead 31-22 at the end of the opening 12 minutes.

Things rapidly got worse, as Westbrook was called for his third personal foul and his second offensive foul just seconds into the second period. Without a focal point offensively, the Lakers went into a drought offensively that still featured porous defense, allowing the Spurs to open up a 12-point lead and forcing a Laker timeout less than three minutes into the period.

With the Lakers continuing to look lost offensively, head coach Frank Vogel rolled the dice by re-inserting Westbrook with three fouls at the midway point of the quarter. That move provided a bit of a spark as the Lakers trimmed a 13-point lead down to seven and eventually allowed them to head into the half down only six.

A barrage of offense from both sides to start the second half eventually went the Lakers' way as they trimmed the deficit all the way down to a single point after a Malik Monk finish at the rim to trail just 71-70.

Howard’s 3-point play just over four minutes into the second half tied the game at 73-73 and Westbrook had his own 3-point play on the ensuing possession gave the Lakers a lead. The Spurs answered with a 5-0 spurt and eventually pushed the lead back to six points.

An Anthony-fueled run to close the final minute of the period included a crossover that looked like Young Melo and allowed the Lakers to trail by only three points heading into the fourth.

Avery Bradley opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to tie the game but San Antonio again responded, eventually going up 108-99 after back-to-back Jakob Poeltl layups and a Josh Richardson 3-pointer to cap off an 11-2 run.

Horton-Tucker replied by capping off a Lakers run with a block at the rim on one end and a 3-pointer on the other, pulling the Lakers to within three points at 108-105. But Poeltl continued to take advantage of the Lakers' lack of height and feasted at the rim, putting the Spurs up eight points with a putback layup.

Despite Poeltl dominating the glass, the Lakers had opportunities late and cut the deficit to four points on a Monk layup with a minute to go. But empty trips offensively and a lack of stops defensively both all-too-common themes on the night — allowed the Spurs to ultimately close the game with relative ease down the stretch.

The Lakers will stay in Texas for their next game as they travel to Houston to meet the Rockets on Wednesday. The game is set for a 5 p.m. PT tipoff on Spectrum SportsNet.

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