Without LeBron James, the Lakers have been frustrated by an inability to close

first_img How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersThe Lakers players and coaches understand how the narrative is turning against them, which has made the collapses all the more frustrating.“We give in a little bit as a team and we start to, our body language gets off a little bit,” Walton said. “What we have to understand is as a group we’re going to win and we’re going to lose and we have to stay together no matter what.”The signs of what Walton called “splintering” were apparent at critical moments on Friday against the Clippers. After Lou Williams hit a running half-court jumper at the halftime buzzer over Josh Hart, Tyson Chandler came over and appeared to be upset with the young guard over the coverage. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope similarly seemed to have words for Ivica Zubac after a Tyrone Wallace shot that forced the Lakers to call a timeout.Even as the Lakers talked about the need to stay together, to navigate the upcoming stretch without James as a group, the locker room reeked of disappointment.“Guys were getting frustrated,” Ball said. “Anytime a team goes on a 22-0 run, it’s not going to be all fine and dandy. We got to regroup. We can’t argue with each other. We’re on the same team.” Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions LOS ANGELES – The last two games for the Lakers have seen Lonzo Ball make spectacular passes, including perhaps his best of the year in a behind-the-back dish for a dunk against the Clippers. In them, Kyle Kuzma has scored a combined 58 points. Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart have each hit tough shots in key moments as the focus of defensive attention rather than the release valve for a star.The one thing the Lakers (20-16) haven’t been able to do without LeBron James, however, is the only thing that matters: They haven’t been able to close.It hasn’t just been garden-variety collapses for the Lakers — their losses to the Kings and the Clippers, have been respectively epic in different ways. The Thursday night defeat in Sacramento saw them cough up a 15-point lead with less than seven minutes left, falling behind only at the final buzzer as Bogdan Bogdanovic sunk them with a fadeaway 3-pointer. The Friday night disappoint was driven by a 22-0 run authored by the Clippers, the most lopsided unanswered scoring stretch of the season.The frustrating thing for Luke Walton is for all the promise he sees in the young talent he’s helped groom for the last three seasons, there’s, at the very least, devastating stretches for a young group lacking firm veteran leadership. For those most critical of whether the younger Lakers can build a convincing cast for a championship contender, the team is missing an opportunity to prove them wrong.Related Articles The two defining runs of the two games together, in which the Lakers were outscored by a combined 38 points in just over 11 minutes of game time, saw remarkable breakdowns defensively, but in different ways.Against the Kings, the Lakers gave up three 3-pointers in the last six minutes, including the game winner that allowed Bogdanovic to take advantage of a switch onto Chandler. They also failed to cover Iman Shumpert, who was hot from deep on the night. The Clippers, on the other hand, scored all of their baskets in the paint during a 7 for 12 run from the field: A high pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams drew Chandler and Zubac to the perimeter, opening up the rim for attacksThe commonalities fell more in their own offensive execution: The Lakers were a combined 4 for 17 during those stretches, including 10 turnovers. It was clear that James, who led the NBA in clutch situation scoring last year, would’ve been a helpful focal point for an otherwise off-course attack.While James was on the sideline lending his voice, along with Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee who were also out, the Lakers missed the veteran talent. With James expected to miss Sunday’s home game against the Kings, it seems likely the Lakers will miss him even more before he can recover from his strained groin.There were other mitigating factors the Lakers pointed to in Friday’s loss: the fact that the team was playing the second game of a back-to-back, and perhaps it was tough to shake off the previous night’s loss. With three more upcoming games in the homestand, the Lakers hope that maybe some of the other negative intagibles will burn off.“That’s growth that I know we’ll have, because when you’re on a back-to-back, when guys are a little tired — which I know we were tonight — that’s when you key in on the little things,” Chandler said. “And they just did the little things better than us. They got more experience than we got out there, and they took advantage of it. But I totally believe that we’ll grow, and we’ll continue to grow. This is healthy for us. We’ll get past all this.”If they don’t soon, the path ahead gets a lot less sunny for the Lakers. Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers last_img read more