“I thought we played pretty good basketball,” he said.
But “pretty good” didn’t get it done in their 116-111 loss to the Kings at Crypto.com Arena, their third home loss since last Thursday, those defeats coming by a total of 10 points.
It was a too-familiar script on Wednesday: a good start — a season-best first-quarter production of 39 points — lapses that put them behind, a rally that brings them close or ahead, but no final flourish to lift them over the finish line.
It has become tiresome, and it’s getting perilous as the Lakers push deeper into a tough portion of a schedule that on Friday has them at home facing the Memphis Grizzlies, who have an 11-game winning streak.
Coach Darvin Ham noted the growing sense of urgency for his team, now 20-25 and still outside the top 10 and a place in the NBA’s contrived play-in tournament.
“We’ve got 37 games left to play to try to get things right,” he said. “We just can’t keep thinking, ‘OK, we can do it the first week of February or the first week of March.’ No. It has to start now. We’re gonna pick ourselves up. Refill our cups. Look at it and see what we did well and try to sustain that. And see what we didn’t do so well and try to correct that.”
The Lakers’ front office should be feeling the same sense of urgency with time growing short before the NBA trade deadline hits on Feb. 9. So far, they’ve waited to gauge the market and have held on to their best chips, their 2027 and 2,029 first-round draft picks. If there’s a deal that will make a significant enough difference and fill enough holes to get this team into the play-in or the playoffs, that move must come soon.
The Lakers gave a few thrills to the crowd on Wednesday — their 12th non-sellout figure in 22 home games — but they couldn’t match up well enough against the dynamic Kings while Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV continued to recover from injuries. Davis, the key absentee, has been doing increasingly intense workouts as he recovers from a right foot stress injury, Ham said, but there’s no timetable for his return.
“We just have to get whole,” Ham said. “And I think we’ve competed our butts off in every single game, except maybe a couple that got away from us a little bit, but a lot of that is because of who’s not and who is in our lineup for that particular night. ”
On Wednesday, the Lakers turned the ball over only seven times, a good follow-up to their two-turnover effort in beating bottom-dwelling Houston on Monday. But they had too many empty possessions in the fourth quarter and made too many basic defensive mistakes to beat the Kings, who didn’t have ailing center Domantas Sabonis but got 31 points from De’Aaron Fox and double-figure scoring from every starter.
“We don’t have much room for error. We are limited with bodies,” James said after a 32-point, eight-rebound, nine-assist performance that also included one steal and one block.
It was his 17th game this season with 30 or more points and the 526th of his career, but he was one for seven from the field in the fourth quarter, missing all three of his three-point attempts. He played 37 minutes in his third game in four nights. He has played at an incredible level, but he’s not immortal.
Ham said he recognizes he can’t run James “into the ground,” but Ham can’t resist the temptation to keep James on the floor. “It is a concern and my staff and I, we talk about it all the time,” Ham said. “It’s tough, man, because he’s such a competitor and we’re in these games and he wants to win. We want to win. So you kind of lose sight of the minutes until you come back and see the stat sheet after the game and you’re like, ‘Oh, hell.’”
James’ fitness and preparation are legendary, but he has been carrying too heavy a load for too long. “No matter the fatigue, no matter what’s going on with me personally, as far as bumps and bruises and fatigue, whatever, my job is to go out there and still perform at a high level, and try to put us in position to win a ballgame,” he said. “And I feel like we did that tonight again, we just came up short.”
They played well enough to lose. Again.
“It’s not going to beat us down. We’re not going to let that happen. We take our licks and we keep pushing forward and try to learn from them and keep our spirits high,” Ham said. “That’s our foundation. No matter what happens, we have to remain competitive, we have to remain together, and we have to hold ourselves accountable in terms of what we can do better, what we’ve done good, sustain that and correct the lessons.
“I feel disappointed, but I’m never discouraged when we fight the way we fight and we give ourselves a chance. Those [injured] guys come back into the fold, we’ll go through our process of working them back into the lineup and balance it out and see which rotation is going to be our best course of action and take it from there.”
One thing is clear: There’s no more time for “pretty good.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.