LeBron James, the short-handed Lakers struggle to fill holes in the lineup in loss to the Kings

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) shoots over Domantas Sabonis (10) of the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/José Luis Villegas)

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots over Kings forward Domantas Sabonis during the first quarter in Sacramento Wednesday. (José Luis Villegas / Associated Press)

None of the Lakers could believe it when they saw or heard the Brooklyn Nets score 91 points in the first half Wednesday night, the locker room full of awe and offensive assault.

By the end of the night looking a little more believable, the Lakers watched as the Sacramento Kings scored a combined 81 points in the second and third quarters in an easy 134-120 win over the short-handed visitors.

Sacramento led by as many as 23, its fans chanting “Turn on the beam” in the fourth quarter as Lakers fans made their way to the exits.

Without Anthony Davis, without Russell Westbrook and without Austin Reaves, the Lakers would have needed something special from someone.

The natural place to look, even in Season 20, is LeBron James, still so big, so strong, so springy, and so skilled despite being just over a week away from his 38th birthday.

But before the game, Lakers coach Darvin Ham had another idea.

“These guys need to be ready to step up and make plays, you know? You can’t hide behind LeBron,” Ham said. “LeBron will be LeBron, he will be there for us. Whenever he’s available, he’ll be out there, trying to play game-winning basketball. He needs help. Just as they expect him to trust them, they need to focus on making games to trust them, to trust us as a team and not just as individuals.

“Everyone has to do their part.”

Everyone, clearly, either couldn’t or didn’t. And James? He couldn’t fix all the problems that developed during the Lakers’ 18th loss of the season.

Dennis Schroder was too small for Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and quickly found himself in trouble. Lonnie Walker IV never got into an offensive rhythm. Wenyen Gabriel, the Lakers energy off the bench, was off in the blink of an eye with foul problems.

Thomas Bryant, the Lakers’ replacement for Davis in the starting lineup, missed a layup and did not return to defense, the Kings swinging the ball for an open three. Kendrick Nunn, one of the players on the bench given more opportunities due to injuries on the Lakers, was mostly invisible on both sides of the ball.

Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis is defended by Lakers center Thomas Bryant.

Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis (10) is defended by Lakers center Thomas Bryant (31) during the first quarter in Sacramento Wednesday. (José Luis Villegas / Associated Press)

With the possibility of a Lakers comeback fading in the fourth, Patrick Beverley lost Kings shooter Kevin Huerter on a game-scoring three-pointer.

And James’ early effectiveness faded as the scoring got wider and wider, the veteran spending the fourth quarter correcting defensive errors and trying to get teammates on board. He finished with 31 points and 11 assists.

“We’re already a team without a lot of length, not a lot of size and you lose a 6-11 guy with a 7-6 wingspan…” James said. “I mean, it’s self-explanatory. It’s not like it’s rocket science.

While the Lakers knew they would not have Davis, they learned at noon that Westbrook would miss his second straight game with pain in his left foot. Ham said the point guard could return against Charlotte on Friday.

“We’re just taking it on a day-to-day basis, trying to be as cautious as possible,” Ham said. “We don’t want to put him in a position where if he tries something, it leads to a bigger problem or a bigger problem. That’s the most important thing to us, just to get out of it in the face.”

Reaves also missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle and said he hoped to return soon, even though there was still swelling in the joint.

Davis’ status, other than “out,” is still a mystery, at least as far as what the Lakers are saying publicly about his foot injury. When asked if Davis would be with the team in his next five-game trip starting at Christmas, Ham didn’t commit and the team declined to provide any updates.

“We’ll see,” Ham said. “She is still going through the evaluation process. We’re still trying to see what course of action we should take, and you’ll know more in the coming days.

Under Davis, the Lakers were catching up to be competitive in the West. Without him, they were eliminated twice by playoff teams in the Phoenix Suns and Kings, giving up more than 130 points to each.

“I don’t think you need to change anything from the core perspective,” Ham said. “I think you must be better.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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