They have never been whole during this already painful season, the injuries mounting, the illnesses mounting and the losses mounting in the process for the Lakers.
And just as they got another player back from the sick bay for their game against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena — a 120-114 defeat — the Lakers lost their best player when it was ruled that LeBron James wasn’t going to play because of a strained left adductor that was suffered during Wednesday night’s loss against the Clippers.
James has been listed as day to day, but his injury could leave him off the court for at least Sunday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers don’t play again after that until hosting the Detroit Pistons on Friday, which would give James eight days to recover.
James had sat out one game before this injury, sitting out Monday’s game at Utah because of a sore foot.
On the other hand, the Lakers did get back guard Lonnie Walker IV, who had sat out the last two games because of a non-COVID illness. And perhaps more importantly, Anthony Davis was able to play despite missing Friday morning’s shootaround because of a non-COVID illness. Patrick Beverley was playing in his second straight game after sitting out the previous two because of a non-COVID illness.
Meanwhile, the Lakers can’t win games, having now lost five in a row.
The Lakers were tied at 114 with nearly 2 1/2 minutes left in the game, but they couldn’t contain De’Aaron Fox, watching him score back-to-back baskets to give the Kings a 118-114 lead, giving the guard 32 points to go with 12 assists.
The Lakers, meanwhile, missed their last six shots after the score was tied, none of them close.
Even with Davis producing 24 points and 14 rebounds, Russell Westbrook contributing 21 points and 11 assists along with five turnovers and Austin Reaves finishing with 19 points, the Lakers couldn’t win because their defense failed them again.
They are ranked 15th in the NBA in defensive rating (110.9), dropping from the No. 2 spot they held earlier this season. They are giving up 116.1 points per game, ranking the Lakers 24th in the league.
“Again, we’ve been hit by the injury bug,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “Dennis Schroder (thumb) hasn’t even played a game yet and neither has Thomas Bryant (thumb). So, you had Lonnie out of the lineup, Pat Bev. LeBron. This is his second game that he’ll be out. But AD. Just different guys. Just trying to maintain our health.
“Once we get whole and we get our bodies whole, I think you’ll see our defensive numbers start to be more favorable and back to where they were at the beginning of the season.”
The Lakers picked up their defensive pressure in the second quarter Friday, opening a 13-point lead.
Then they got sloppy and the lead was trimmed to 60-56 by halftime.
The Lakers opened an 88-87 lead at the end of the third quarter behind 20 points and 11 rebounds from Davis and 16 points and six assists from Russell Westbrook, who also had five turnovers. Davis finished with a team-high 24.
Ham has been preaching patience, but he also wants his team to play with a sense of urgency.
“I just think you just keep hitting home on your principles and that was the thing I told them after the game, the Clipper game, and also yesterday, today,” Ham said. “Just to buckle down and just really embrace and get entrenched into our principles. That’s the best way to weather any storm.
“It’s easy to start picking at things, ‘Well, this. How come we’re not doing this and how come we’re not doing that?’ We just got to get back at doing what we were doing well early on in the year.
“Although there weren’t a lot of wins, but we were highly competitive on the defensive end and that slipped here in recent games. So, the biggest thing for us is to get back defending at a high level and that will generate offense and trust in our offense and trust in our ball movement.”
The Lakers said that Bryant, who underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament on his left thumb, and Schroder, who underwent surgery to repair the collateral ligament on his right thumb, were both reevaluated this week and that both are progressing well. Both Bryant and Schroder will be reevaluated again Thursday.