Short-handed Lakers can’t keep pace with Warriors: ‘It was one of those games’

SAN FRANCISCO — The Los Angeles Lakers improbably exited the NBA All-Star Break less healthy than they entered it.

LeBron James, who sat out the final pre-break game in Utah because of an ongoing left ankle injury, played in the All-Star Game but wasn’t healthy enough to play Thursday night in the Lakers’ return. Christian Wood suffered a left knee effusion in that game against the Jazz, and the Lakers have ruled him out for at least the next two weeks. All the while, Jarred Vanderbilt, Gabe Vincent and Cam Reddish remain out.

With their frontline, in particular, depleted, the Lakers were blown out by the Golden State Warriors 128-110 at the Chase Center on Thursday to drop Los Angeles to 30-27 and snap its three-game win streak. The Lakers hold a half-game lead over the Warriors (28-26) for the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference, though the Warriors are technically ahead of them in the loss column now. Golden State is enjoying a turnaround of its own, having won nine of 11 games.

“It was one of those games, man,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Coming off the break, it’s going to be tough playing against a team like this.”

It was especially tough for the Lakers playing against Stephen Curry without three of their four best perimeter defenders (Vanderbilt, Vincent and Reddish). The Lakers started the game in a slightly deeper drop than normal against Curry, allowing him to shake loose and pull up for 3s as he gained an early rhythm. He had 16 points in the first quarter and 25 points in the first half. He finished with 32 points (making six 3-pointers) and added eight assists.

Curry made momentum shot after momentum shot, eventually sparking a pivotal 17-5 Warriors run that turned a 51-50 Lakers lead with 3:38 left in the second quarter into a 67-56 Golden State halftime lead.

“He had a couple flip shots,” Ham said of Curry. “We fell asleep in transition in terms of slow-developing pick-and-rolls. Those flip shots where he’s off the ball and a pick-and-roll happens and they kick it ahead to Draymond (Green) or (Kevon) Looney and they’re right there pitching the ball to him, knocking off our defenders, and he got some looks that way. We lost him a couple times.”

By the time the Lakers adjusted — playing up to the level of the screen, throwing some traps and double-teams at Curry and even switching Davis onto him in certain segments — it was too late.

The Warriors were already in a flow and kept triggering the Lakers’ defense to rotate side to side. The problem was that the Warriors were always one to two passes ahead of them, too often leading to efficient looks like open 3s and layups. Rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis, specifically, eviscerated LA’s backline by getting behind it for easy dunks and layups. He scored 17 points off the bench on his 24th birthday.

Ham replaced James in the starting lineup with Taurean Prince, which had a trickle-down effect. The Lakers technically only had three big men available: Davis, Rui Hachimura and Jaxson Hayes. Even two-way rookie center Colin Castleton, who Ham said pregame had a chance to play rotation minutes, was a late scratch because of a wrist injury.

The Warriors were often the bigger team and had 15 offensive rebounds and 23 second-chance points, taking advantage of the Lakers’ smaller three-guard and even four-guard looks (Prince played power forward in certain lineups but has been most effective as a shooting guard this season). Los Angeles had players in unfamiliar situations, like defending the rim as the low man or being relied upon to crack back and rebound instead of getting out in transition.

“It’s tough, but you can never use that as an excuse,” Austin Reaves said of the team’s lack of available size. “You play the hand you’re dealt. It just means us as guards, we’ve got to do a better job of helping AD and Jaxson because they’re battling so hard in the paint. We got to do a better job helping them get those rebounds.”

Another unforeseen variable was Davis losing his voice pregame. He didn’t speak to the media postgame because his voice was so raspy and inaudible. Ham said Davis was unable to communicate defensive calls and coverages at a normal rate.

“Him having a little trouble with his voice tonight definitely impacted the game,” Ham said. “My hat’s off to him. He still came out and did the best job he could under the circumstances.”

Davis still posted 27 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, feasting inside against the Warriors’ undersized frontline. Reaves added 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and embraced the task of defending Curry with the starters. D’Angelo Russell had 18 points and nine assists, though he was inefficient, making just six of 15 shots.

The Lakers shot 62.3 percent on 2-pointers, generating high-percentage looks inside the arc. But they struggled beyond it (they shot 10 of 35 — 28.6 percent), and that was a swing factor against a red-hot Curry. The Warriors made 16 of 41 3-point attempts (39.0 percent) while also matching the Lakers in points in the paint (58 to 58). Without James, the free-throw battle was much closer as well (14-of-21 for the Lakers versus 12-of-14 for the Warriors).

“I think if you go back and look, for the most part, shots were good shots,” Reaves said. “And we just, from the 3-point line, didn’t shoot it well. And when you’ve got a team that does shoot the ball well, or gets up so many attempts that when they are making shots, you have to, obviously not match what they do, but you have to put a little more 3s on the board to kind of balance that out. … Sometimes you make some, and sometimes you miss them.”

The offense wasn’t the problem. It was the defense, as it’s been for nearly two months. Since Jan. 7, the Lakers rank ninth in offensive rating and 20th in defensive rating. They reincorporated an important piece in Max Christie, who played 29 minutes in his return after missing three games with a right ankle sprain.

More help could be on the way Friday, with Ham deeming James’ left ankle injury a “day-to-day thing.”

We’ll get an official word tomorrow morning and see, but in all likelihood, he should be out there tomorrow,” Ham said.

Reddish is day-to-day and could also play against the San Antonio Spurs. Wood, Vanderbilt and Vincent are out.

Friday’s game is incredibly important. Every game from this point on is. The Lakers are dangerously close to being in the No. 10 spot, with every other Play-In team posting just as good of a record over the past 10 games (6-4), if not better, outside of the Kings (who are 5-5).

The Lakers schedule doesn’t get any easier, with a matchup against the Suns in Phoenix on Sunday and the Clippers as the road team on Wednesday. Regardless of who’s available, the group will have to properly adjust and problem-solve in real time to avoid another costly skid.

“We got to get bodies back in the lineup,” Ham said. “That said, we still have a bunch of capable players in that locker room, and we can’t make up our own coverages or start doing things just because we’re fatigued or we’re lost or whatever. We’re going to cover for one another, but we also have to know at the (start) of things what the plan is and stick to that plan.”

(Photo of Anthony Davis: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

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