LeBron James worked out hard after the Lakers completed their shoot-around Monday morning, battling in the post, running to the three-point arc, throwing down dunks, hitting pull-up jumpers, his sweat all over the Moda Center court.
But James didn’t play Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, missing his third consecutive game because of left ankle soreness. With the game Wednesday against New Orleans at Crypto.com Arena serving as the Lakers’ last before the All-Star break, coach Darvin Ham was asked whether James would play that night.
“Yeah,” Ham said, “in all likelihood he should be available then.”
James has not played since he broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record last Tuesday night in a loss to Oklahoma City.
The Lakers, who have six new players for whom they traded in the last 3½ weeks, could have used James against a Trail Blazers team that put them in a 27-point hole behind sizzling All-Star point guard Damian Lillard.
The Lakers had no answers for Lillard, who had 40 points, six rebounds and five assists in pushing Portland to a 127-115 victory.
Anthony Davis finished with 19 points and 20 rebounds for the Lakers, but it was nothing compared with Lillard going 13 for 23 from the field overall and eight for 14 from three-point range. Lillard scored 30 points in the first half and hit all eight of his three-pointers before halftime.
“You just try to do your best to make it as difficult as possible for him,” Ham said. “Outside of stealing his sneakers, I don’t know what else you can do. You play good ‘D,’ and he still knocks down shots.”
Lakers guard Dennis Schroder suffered an off night, going one for seven from the field and scoring two points after scoring 51 in his previous two games. D’Angelo Russell had 16 points and four assists, and fellow newcomer Malik Beasley scored 22 points as a reserve, making six threes.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the Lakers (26-32) from losing for the fourth time in their last five games.
The previous time the Lakers were in Portland, on Jan. 22, they rallied from a 25-point deficit to win 121-112.
Not this time.
Not with the Lakers unable to stop Portland (28-29) from drilling three-pointers. The Trail Blazers shot 48.9% from beyond the three-point arc, going 23 for 47. Portland made 17 three-pointers in the first half and led 65-46 at intermission.
“That barrage of threes, it’s hard to overcome,” Ham said.
The Trail Blazers are ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings, meaning 13th-place L.A. will have to climb over Portland, Oklahoma City and Utah before it can secure a spot in the play-in event as a top-10 team.
“I see the glass as half-full,” Ham said. “Picked up some phenomenal players. Got younger a little bit and some really high-IQ guys, and so once we get everybody out there, get LJ back out there with everybody, we’re super, duper excited what the future holds for us in the short term and the long term.”
The Lakers have 24 regular-season games left to get it right or they will be staring at another long offseason without making the playoffs.
“We just got to speed up the process,” Davis said. “It’ll definitely be challenging a little bit [because] they are fairly new and we … are trying to learn a system on both ends of the floor and then also try to figure it out a lot on the offensive end. So, that’s the biggest part.”
The last of the new Lakers to speak with the media was Mo Bamba, the 7-foot center who was acquired from Orlando in exchange for Patrick Beverley. He did so Monday after the Lakers’ shoot-around.
Bamba didn’t play because he was serving the last game of his four-game suspension for an on-court altercation with Minnesota guard Austin Rivers. But when Bamba is available to play Wednesday, he believes the transition will be smooth.
Bamba said meshing with James and Davis will be easy because they are so good. He has had ties with Russell, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV.
“So, there’s continuity there as far as familiarity,” Bamba said. “Obviously, it’s different when you get on the court, but I don’t think it will be too much of a challenge.”