LeBron James score 30, but Lakers look careless in loss to Trail Blazers

Russell Westbrook sat on the end of the bench — the spot where he spent the Lakers’ fourth-quarter comeback in Los Angeles a night earlier.

It wasn’t turnovers, missed shots or poor defense that landed him there against the Trail Blazers, though. It was a sore back — an injury forcing him out of the Lakers’ starting lineup for the first time this season.

The timing of it all couldn’t have been more dramatic — the trade deadline one day in front of the team and a sort of pivot point against the Milwaukee Bucks one night behind.

In what could be his final look as a Laker, Westbrook patrolled the sidelines in a bright orange shirt, khaki pants and baseball cap, more engaged and animated as a spectator than as a player, when he typically sits stoically on the bench.

With or without him, the Lakers still looked like a careless basketball team, too many mistakes and not enough intensity and execution against a Portland team in the middle of trading away most of its best players.

The Lakers turned the ball over 21 times in a 107-105 loss, any shot for good vibes going into Thursday’s noon trade deadline carelessly coughed up.

Instead of converting a two-on-one fast break, LeBron James had a pass intercepted, Portland making the Lakers pay with a three-pointer. Another chance at cutting the lead was spoiled by an offensive foul. And needing one last stop, Anthony Davis could only helplessly watch Portland grab a game-sealing offensive rebound.

Following the Lakers’ lopsided loss to the Bucks on Tuesday, Westbrook aired his frustrations with inconsistencies in the Lakers’ lineups and coach Frank Vogel’s rotations. He also said he earned the right to close games.

Both James and Davis also voiced their frustrations, James flatly saying the Lakers weren’t close to being as good as the Bucks, and Davis warning that the team needed to turn things around before they got worse.

All of this came while sources within the team made it clear that the roster, as currently constructed, was probably flawed beyond repair. And Westbrook, despite playing in each of the Lakers’ games this season before Wednesday, still wasn’t comfortable on the floor.

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“I think it’s important for everyone to be able to communicate. Through our frustrations this year, we have communicated. And I do think that’s healthy,” Vogel said before the game.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis and Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic battle for a rebound during the first half Wednesday in Portland, Ore. (Steve Dipaola / Associated Press)

It would also be healthy if the Lakers approached games with the required energy and execution. A problem in their last two games, the Lakers benefited from Portland’s poor shooting early Wednesday, covering up for sloppy offensive play.

The Blazers missed 10 threes in the first quarter, but six Lakers turnovers led to eight Portland points, setting the tone against the undermanned team, which was playing without recently acquired Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe.

Pregame, Vogel said he wanted to see “hustle” in the opening minutes. Instead, he saw a team just try to push through the sludge on the second night of a back to back.

“We’ve got to show that it means something to us, that we believe in what we have the ability to do this year,” Vogel said. “And, you know, we have to execute. But you’ve got to make sure you’re playing with the necessary care factor and fight.”

The Lakers had no choice but to fight — the Trail Blazers refusing to cede anything to the Lakers, who were big favorites. Former Laker Ben McLemore swiped at the ball and elbowed James in the side of the head in the first quarter, dazing the Lakers’ star and sending him staggering into the front row.

James was able to stay in the game, but Portland wasn’t close to being physically intimidated.

Without Westbrook, though, the Lakers were able to get some unexpected contributions. Seldom-used Wayne Ellington hit multiple threes in the first half and gave the team a lift. And Talen Horton-Tucker, freed up to handle the ball more with Westbrook out, had a solid impact.

And while the Lakers led by as many as nine, it was mostly a product of mere shot-making instead of sustained stretches of great basketball. And once Portland heated up in the second half, the game changed.

Fixing things at the trade deadline Thursday might be impossible. But the Lakers know what will happen if they can’t figure out a way to change.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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