In their tenth game with LeBron James out from a groin injury and Rajon Rondo out with a finger injury, the Los Angeles Lakers (23-21) could not get the win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (10-35). L.A. fell to the Cavs 101-95 on Jan. 13 at the Staples Center which was their second consecutive loss.
Head coach Luke Walton called it a frustrating loss. He said they have to play better, they have to make shots and they have to make free throws.
“We had plenty of chances tonight to really try and back over the hump, but we just didn’t do it.” Walton said after the game. “So, as a group, we have to get better.”
Walton said he believes in the group and believes they will start playing better. He said he knows what the team is capable of and believes in the group’s effort. However, he also said he might have to make a change to the starting lineup before the next game.
Nonetheless, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram stepped up with the veterans out. Kuzma led the team with 29 points, 9 rebounds and four assists. Ingram also scored 22 points along with 7 rebounds and two assists. Lonzo Ball was the only other Laker in double figures with 13 points as well as 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
That still wasn’t enough to overcome a bad shooting night. As a team, Los Angeles shot 7-of-34 from three-point range and 16-of-27 from the free throw line. That included Kentavious Caldwell-Pope going 0-6 from three point range and scoring just four points.
Otherwise, Kuzma gave the Lakers hope throughout the fourth as he brought the team within five or six multiple times in the fourth. At the halfway point, he made consecutive buckets to bring the team within five. He hit two-of-three free throws to make it six with a little less than two minutes left too.
Kuzma still didn’t give himself much credit after the game. He said he needs to play better.
“As a team, we need to be more engaged in the sense of having effort.” Kuzma said after the loss. “That starts with me.”
Kuzma went on to say he played like crap. He also said the team needs to bring that energy and compete against every team, especially when they’re fighting for seeding in the Western Conference.
Still, the second-year forward’s best effort to finish the game came after he scored a three pointer off a tip with 22.6 seconds remaining in regulation. It wasn’t the Lakers only attempt to bring the game within a single score but it was the closest L.A. would seem to get in the fourth.
Cleveland would convert free throws to make it a five point game once again after the Kuzma three. L.A. then answered with a second chance Kuzma layup off a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed three to cut the lead three points again. Cleveland would again convert the free throws while L.A. would fail to answer. Cleveland finished the night converting 17-of-23 free throws.
Moreover, Cleveland had all members of their starting five in double figures through three quarters. Cedi Osman led the Cavs with 20 points, 8 rebounds and an assist in 40 minutes. Tristan Thompson and Alec Burks added double-doubles. Burks finished the night with 13 points and 17 rebounds while Thompson added 16 points and 4 rebounds. Rodney Hood scored 18 points and Colin Sexton registered 17 points too.
Jordan Clarkson also added 9 points off-the-bench versus the team that drafted him 2015 and traded him at the deadline last year. Clarkson is averaging 17.1 points, 2.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds for the Cavs this year.
Cleveland put together a team effort throughout. They led by 75-65 entering the fourth which wasn’t surprising as the Lakers shot only 30 percent from the field as a team in the third. Both teams scored a lot in the paint. They each had 38 points in the paint through three quarters.
Further, Cleveland held a 51-46 lead over the Lakers at the halftime. Kuzma scored nine in the second which would help the Lakers close a bigger gap from the first quarter.
L.A. opened the game with an eight point deficit in the first half despite Ingram putting 11 points and Ball adding 8. Cleveland led by as much as 15-2 early in the game. Osman (8), Sexton (7) and Burks (5) all contributed on the offensive end in the first.
Now, the season series will finish tied up after this L.A. loss because the Lakers beat Cleveland 109-105 in their only other matchup of the season.
Entering the contest, the Lakers held the No. 8 seed in the West with one less loss than the ninth seeded Utah Jazz. The teams finish the night with the same record and as many losses as the tenth seeded in Kings in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
Next, the Lakers will welcome another Eastern Conference lottery team in the Chicago Bulls (10-33). Their first matchup with the Bulls this season takes place on Jan 15 at 7:30 P.M. PST.