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LeBron James reaches milestone in Lakers’ loss

By Dan Woike
Los Angeles Times/TNS

LOS ANGELES - Eventually, it comes for all teams.

Just like it has with Kevin Durant, just like it has shut down teams across the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers finally had to deal with COVID’s nasty curveball, their lineup for one of the most anticipated games of the season unraveled an hour before tipoff.

Already down Anthony Davis for their showdown with the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers learned late Thursday that they’d also be without starting point guard Dennis Schroder because of the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

On the night when LeBron James became the third ever and the fastest to 35,000 points, the Lakers witnessed his continued greatness. But they also were reminded that they’re going to need everyone to make their title repeat plans reality.

The Nets, considered by many to be the Lakers’ primary competition, dominated for most of Thursday’s game, building a 25-point lead while the Lakers helplessly tried to keep it close, eventually losing 109-98 in a game that wasn’t that close.

The Lakers will have to keep going down this road. It’ll be about four weeks until Davis is able to play again, coach Frank Vogel said. And Schroder’s absence is open-ended.

The matchup was already diminished with Davis and Brooklyn’s Durant out, but Schroder’s loss just before the game left a short-handed team in even more chaos.

The news caught the Lakers off guard in the ways Vogel has assured people that the team is prepared for. Flexibility in all seasons is key, but in this pandemic season, it’s imperative. But still, it had to be jarring to learn that the plan for Kyrie Irving, which Vogel mentioned before the game, would need to be quickly scrapped.

“It obviously had a great impact,” Vogel said.

Without Schroder, the Lakers lost someone the team was counting on to help try to contain Irving while taking some of the offensive pressure off of James, who had 32 points.

The Lakers largely did an admirable job against the Nets’ two healthy stars, James Harden and Irving (Durant was out with a hamstring injury), but the pressure those guards created gave the Nets so many open looks for their superior shooters.

Joe Harris and Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot each made five three-pointers in their first 12 combined attempts. During that stretch, the Lakers had made four total from deep. They finished with only eight makes to 18 for the Nets.

The Lakers’ recent three-point woes - and they’re missing a ton of them - have been compounded by a bit of a surprising problem. Despite making less than 30% in their last eight games, Vogel wants them shooting even more from deep.

The Lakers are taking only 30.1 three-point attempts per game, fourth fewest in the NBA. And Vogel said that number is low because of the decisions the team is making at the basket, not away from it.

“I’ve talked about that without guys a few days ago. It was a big point of emphasis last game. We have to make better decisions in the paint. We want to shoot high-percentage shots in there. If we don’t have a high-percentage shot, see the backside and play paint-to-great basketball,” Vogel said. “(It was) sort of an identity piece for us last year. We do it at times this year, but maybe not enough. And something I’m continuing to emphasize.”

The Lakers took 14 three-pointers in the first half and made only four. Both numbers were low and the Lakers trailed by 11 at the break.

For the Nets, they entered Staples Center as one of the top contenders in the league, a role first-year Brooklyn coach Steve Nash has occupied here before.

It was in Staples Center as a player where his NBA career came to an end, injuries derailing what could’ve been a star trio with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.

“I mean it’s kind of a tale of two sides, my experience with the Lakers. It was a disaster in that I couldn’t find my health and basically my career unraveled here after hours and hours and hours of fighting for whatever I could. It just wasn’t to be,” Nash said. “And then, the other side of the coin was just some incredible people inside the Lakers organization that were so good to me and an incredible experience to be a part of that fabric and to get to know some of those people so well and to get to feel that connection to them was amazing.

“So, it was an incredible experience and a disaster all at once, and I don’t regret a minute of it.”

For the Lakers, Thursday’s game was just a disaster - a team left wondering how they’ll figure things out while they try and get whole.

“We’ve got to be better,” Vogel said.

The Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, right, shoots and scores against the Brooklyn Nets' Jeff Green in the first quarter at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.