Saturday, July 13, 2024

Lakers fade in second half in loss to Cleveland Cavaliers

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LOS ANGELES — Seeing flashes of a dream coming to fruition might be more painful than never seeing it materialize at all.

The Lakers’ first six minutes of play portended all that they once thought their superstar-studded team could be. With an early bounce, LeBron James was cruising to the rim, threading through Cleveland’s tough shot blockers. Anthony Davis had the first basket of the game on a dunk, and cleaned up the glass. Russell Westbrook checked in after four minutes and immediately nabbed a steal and tipped in a putback.

The home crowd was surging with energy as the Lakers seized a 21-9 lead against one of the hottest teams in the NBA. And then things started dropping off.

Flashes don’t add up to wins. After the initial crackling start on Sunday afternoon, the Lakers reverted to some now-familiar patterns in a 114-100 loss to the Cavaliers, who extended their own winning streak to eight games. The Lakers are starting to feel a little more like their 2-7 record than they might be willing to admit.

“Just didn’t come out ready,” Westbrook said. “They came out well prepared in the third. And we was playing catch-up from then on.”

The Lakers’ offense in particular deserted them in the second half: They scored just 36 points after the break. As a team, they again struggled to shoot, going just 8 for 27 from deep — a figure that got a boost from the bench-warmers who checked in the game with five minutes remaining and the Cavaliers lead at 17.

Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland led the charge for the Cavaliers, combining for 57 points and making up for their front court players’ foul trouble. They did a lot of damage at the free throw line, hitting 19 of their 20 attempts and helping the Cavs shoot 15 more free throws than the Lakers (12 for 21). Their resilience carried Cleveland through a shaky start, and the Lakers shrank in response.

The Lakers wound up being out-rebounded (48-43) and lost the turnover battle (17-14). Ham put in his Big Three early in the fourth quarter to close a double-digit lead, but that lineup never closed the gap closer than 11 points.

“I don’t know, our spirit, it seemed to have left the building,” Ham said. “I thought what we saw in the first half is how we want to play. I mean, we were right there toe to toe with them, actually had the lead going into the halftime. And then, second half, again, shots don’t go down, a few turnovers happen and we kind of dropped our heads a little bit.”

James hasn’t had lift on his jumper for a week while battling a stomach bug that he admitted sapped his shooting rhythm. The problems continued Sunday, as the 37-year-old shot 13 for 23 with 27 points and only hit two jump shots while missing all of his three free throw attempts. A fourth-quarter three broke a streak of 16 straight misses from beyond the arc going back a week to Sunday’s game against Denver.

Westbrook and Davis looked dominant in the first half to pick up the slack. Westbrook made his first five attempts and thrilled the crowd again with hustle plays, like a stolen inbounds pass that he dished to Davis. Davis also had 17 points in the first two quarters, dominating Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley as the Lakers led at the break.

But those fell off as well, as Westbrook (19 points, 10 assists) lacked the same lightning bolt energy in the second half. He was just 1 for 6 from the field after halftime, and also had three of his team-high seven turnovers in the second half. While he did lead the Lakers with a 3 for 5 effort from beyond the arc, it’s not exactly reassuring when your best 3-point shooter is Russell Westbrook.

Davis (19 points) scored just two points in the second half for the second straight game. He was hamstrung in part by foul trouble, getting his fourth just a few minutes into the third quarter, but taking only two shots in the entire second half continued a concerning trend of Davis fading late in games (he had just four second-half shots in the previous game against Utah).

Davis wound up not speaking to the media on Sunday afternoon, while Ham put at least some of the onus on his big man to step up later in games.

“He’s got my blessing to scream out, call his own number,” Ham said. “We tried to get him going, tried to get Bron going on some post actions and some step-ups and pick-and-roll stuff. It’s not like we’re not trying.”

James did actually shoot better as the game went on, going 7 for 11 in the second half. But Ham pointing to the supporting cast as well to be better: “We gotta step up and help our big dogs.” Only Troy Brown Jr. added double-figure scoring (12 points) to supplement the Big Three.

There is still time for the Lakers to improve, and their early schedule has been markedly difficult. But after Davis said Saturday that he believed the Lakers were better than they’ve showed so far, James seemed a little more results oriented, saying Sunday, “our record is our record.

“This ball club has definitely competed,” he added. “But we’ve, for the majority, we just hit a wall at one point and it’s hard for us to recover after that. We put so much on our defense so when our offense goes four, five or six possessions without scoring, we put a load on our defense. You just got to keep pushing.”

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