MEMPHIS — After the Los Angeles Lakers squandered an early lead against an undermanned Grizzlies team in Thursday’s 108-95 loss, Anthony Davis said L.A.’s identity is far from the championship contender it’s supposed to be.
“These guys already feel like they’re the underdogs when they’re coming in, especially when they’re without their star players,” Davis said of a Memphis team playing without its top two scorers, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, because of the health and safety protocols. “And we got to play like we’re the underdogs. Which, now, at this point of the season, the way we’re playing, a lot of games, we probably are.”
It’s been a recurring theme for the Lakers as of late, with recent losses including a Kawhi Leonard-less LA Clippers team and a Sacramento Kings team missing two starters in Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes.
Davis said that opponents circle the Lakers on their calendar, hoping to stamp their season by taking down L.A.’s collection of star power in himself, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.
“I think when their star players are out, we have to lock in even more because these guys have no conscience,” Davis said. “They want to come in and beat the Lakers, beat LeBron, beat AD, beat whoever, beat Melo. Like, they want to say, ‘I gave the Lakers 30, 25, whatever.'”
Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 25 points for Memphis, nearly nine points more than his season average, and Desmond Bane had 23, seven points more than his average. But as much as they stepped up, the Lakers also shot themselves in the foot with 22 turnovers, leading to 27 points for Memphis.
“Our turnovers went way up, we didn’t rebound the basketball, we were slow to every loose ball, and there was just too much of a casualness to our approach after we got that early lead,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “It wasn’t even a huge lead, but we just, we got casual.”
Indeed, L.A.’s nine-point lead in the first quarter quickly evaporated before halftime. The Lakers had nine turnovers in the second quarter, leading to 15 points for the Grizzlies, who led 59-53 at the half. Westbrook (six turnovers) and James (five) were the main culprits.
James, who saw his 100th career triple-double go to waste in the lost, described in detail all five of his miscues after the game.
“All of them controlled. All of them terrible. All in the first half. And I knew that,” James said. “I had zero in the second half. So I made the adjustment.”
Westbrook, who is second in the league in turnovers behind only James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets, had curtailed his turnovers recently, as had the Lakers as a team, but that wasn’t the case against the Grizzlies.
“Some we can take away, some that just happen,” he said. “Someone stepped out of bounds, some loose ball turnovers, some that if you actually watched the game, it happens to the best of us. Live ball ones are the ones we worry about, where they can be able to get points off of our turnovers.”
The loss dropped the Lakers to 13-13, the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference standings.
L.A. was the undermanned team for much of the season so far, with injuries decimating the lineup, but the Lakers have been close to whole for a bit now, missing only Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn.
Vogel said before the game that he would continue to tinker with different lineup combinations “as long as it takes” to feel like he has found the right formula, a decision that sounds like it is starting to wear on James.
“Obviously it’s been challenging,” James said after the game. “Inconsistent lineups and minutes that you’re logging with certain guys. Whenever you’re on the floor with whoever you’re on the floor with, you got to try to be in the plus and do what the guy before was able to do. If he was able to build a lead, or if he was not playing well you try to pick him up. But it’s been challenging for sure.”
James finished with a plus-minus of plus-two in 38 minutes, which means that in the 10 minutes he rested, the Lakers were outscored by 15. Westbrook, Anthony and Malik Monk all finished with a minus-16 for the night.
“We’ve got to do a better job of taking on the challenge, because when everyone is playing the Los Angeles Lakers, we’re going to get their best shot,” Westbrook said. “We know that from the start of the year. We understand that. But we’ve got to be able to own our s—. Simple as that.”