Kyle Kuzma shoots a hook shot against the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 23, 2017.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Lakers Falter in Sluggish Loss to Portland

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

After four consecutive battles with the NBA’s elite class, Lakers head coach Luke Walton felt that a shorthanded Trail Blazers team was “ready to give us that game.”

But — unlike in their clashes with Cleveland, Golden State (twice) and Houston — the Lakers didn’t have the right mentality against Portland, losing 95-92.

“I thought guys on our bench were pouting,” Walton said. “I thought that there was too much feeling sorry for ourselves as opposed to being professionals. … I just didn’t think we were very in character tonight.”

Walton supposed that his team was tired from playing the day before in Oakland, but wouldn’t allow that as an excuse (particularly considering that Portland was also on a back-to-back).

Fatigue was evident in both teams, as each shot poorly from the field. Both clubs were also missing one of their key players, as Portland suited up sans leading scorer Damian Lillard, while the Lakers were without Brandon Ingram.

It has been a season of considerable growth for Ingram, who has averaged 17.5 points and 5.3 assists in his last four games. The Lakers (11-20) felt that they were missing his slashing ability and playmaking on a night of offensive sluggishness.

“He’s able to get to the rim, and his assist-making’s definitely gotten better,” Josh Hart said. “He’s able to find his holes and find open teammates. We definitely missed that.”

Hart did his part stepping into Ingram’s spot in the starting lineup, as the rookie tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds while playing strong defense all night.

But his teammates couldn’t find that kind of success. Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 18 points apiece, but the former said he “couldn’t throw a rock into the ocean” on a night when he shot just 6-of-19.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball served up 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, but shot 4-of-13 and committed five of the Lakers’ 17 turnovers.

L.A. also continued its league-worst free throw woes, shooting 12-of-20 at the line.

“You’re not going to win in the NBA missing as many free throws as we do,” Ball said.

Despite the giveaways and poor shooting, the Lakers still managed to give themselves a shot at victory late in the game.

Down by five with four minutes left, the Lakers embarked on an 8-2 run, concluded by a big-time 3-pointer by Ball and a trip to the foul line for Julius Randle.

Randle split his free throws, giving the Lakers a one-point lead with a minute remaining.

Kuzma appeared to be fouled on a 3-pointer, but no call was given. Then the Lakers stopped Portland (17-16) from scoring, but allowed Maurice Harkless to take the lead on a put-back while drawing a foul for a three-point play.

Trailing by three on their final possession, the Lakers drew up and executed a nice play to get Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a clean look at a game-tying 3-pointer. But the shooting guard was too strong on his attempt, sealing the Lakers’ loss.

Notes
Harkless led Portland with 22 points, while Shabazz Napier had 21. … The Blazers scored 23 second-chance points. … The Lakers did a good job limiting C.J. McCollum (7-of-23 field goals) and Jusuf Nurkic (2-of-11). … Rookie Thomas Bryant made his NBA debut and had one point in four minutes. … A crowd of 18,997 sold out Staples Center.

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