LOS ANGELES — As the seconds ticked away, Anthony Davis had a problem.
On his final basket of the night, he tumbled to the ground and his right shoe came off his foot. It was just a three-point game with a minute-and-a-half remaining, so the big man ran back anyway, trying to get in position to guard center Rudy Gobert and potentially get a needed stop.
But Mike Conley drained a 3-pointer, Davis finally got a timeout to retrieve his shoe, and the Lakers never got any closer.
“The floor was definitely slippery,” Davis said. “I’m not sure if they was in the penalty or not at that time, but you just try to get a stop. Rudy just made a great play to Mike. I tried to get there and get back out, but I just couldn’t move.”
Davis is starting to get used to disadvantages, soldiering through the Lakers’ 110-102 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves without LeBron James or D’Angelo Russell. While the loss didn’t hurt the Lakers (30-34) as much as it could have in the standings – they remain in 11th place in the Western Conference, a game behind the New Orleans Pelicans, who also lost – it didn’t help, as they lost ground to the seventh-place Timberwolves (33-32), one of the teams they’re still trying to leapfrog in the pack.
Trailing by as much as 14 points, the Lakers often looked more outgunned than out-competed by a physical and lengthy Minnesota team playing without Karl Anthony-Towns but with three other current or former All-Stars in the lineup. That didn’t stop Coach Darvin Ham from digging into his short-handed squad, criticizing their effort in the kind of high-stakes contests they’ll be playing for the next few weeks.
“Too many times I felt like our energy was off, our effort was off in certain plays,” Ham said. “We didn’t seem to have any urgency. They’re fighting for their life as well trying to get into the postseason. And they had that urgency. We didn’t.”
While the 29-year-old Davis put up a game-high 38 points, he found few other consistent co-stars on the offensive end – no other Laker had more than Malik Beasley’s 15 points, and only Lonnie Walker IV (10 points) also finished in double figures. That was in stark contrast to Minnesota’s offensive effort, which featured five double-digit scorers led by Gobert’s 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Davis’ game was boosted in part by getting to the foul line, which he did 14 times for 12 points. At one point in the third quarter, both Gobert and Anthony Edwards had four fouls apiece. But the Lakers, who lost for only the second time in six games, were mired by spotty shooting: The team was just 24 for 64 outside of Davis.
Injuries have forced the Lakers to use five different starting lineups in eight games since the trade deadline. That sense of disruption has seemingly shown up on offense, especially without James or Russell to organize and distribute.
“I feel like since I’ve been here, we’ve been trying to figure out lineups,” Jarred Vanderbilt said. “We play some games with Bron, without Bron, without D-Lo, with just A.D. – it’s presented something different every single game. Just trying to feed off each other and just find ways where we can find consistent offense.”
The late stages of the game provided some drama, and the Lakers got as close as three points in the final minutes with the home crowd rising for the occasion. Beasley and Vanderbilt, themselves former Timberwolves, had a handful of big moments, including a steal by Vanderbilt that he converted into a free throw with 3:51 left.
Conley (14 points) and Gobert helped close it out for Minnesota, making three of the team’s final four field goals. Edwards added 19 points. Minnesota also outscored the Lakers 38-27 in bench points.
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Davis started with a ravenous appetite for the matchup against Gobert, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He rattled off 16 points in the first quarter alone. On one possession when Gobert got the better of him with a blocked shot from behind, Davis picked himself off the floor in time to grab an outlet pass off a steal, and get his revenge with a poster dunk over the 7-foot Frenchman.
But Minnesota’s length bothered the Lakers, particularly at point guard where they’re the thinnest. Dennis Schröder and Austin Reaves, who turned in tremendous games in Oklahoma City, were a combined 1 for 13 in the first half as the team’s leading playmakers. When Davis was strung up by foul trouble in the second quarter, the team’s offense struggled. The Lakers were down nine points before an 11-3 flurry to end the half from four different players.
Schröder was just 3 for 13 playing on a left ankle he twisted two nights before against the Thunder, but still managed 12 assists. Davis mentioned that the Lakers’ big men, who were hit with offensive fouls for their screens, could have done a better job of freeing up their playmakers from Minnesota’s pressure.
Ham certainly wasn’t in the mood to entertain any excuses.
“We’re not digging ditches all day,” he said. “We’re not building homes. We’re not doing construction, risking our lives. We’re doing basketball for a living. And we’re playing for one of the most recognizable, historic franchises on the face of the earth – the most. If that doesn’t motivate you to go out and try to be the best version of yourself, I don’t know what will.”
“Too many times, I felt like our energy was off. Our effort was off in certain plays. We didn’t seem to have any urgency… They had that urgency, we didn’t.” Darvin Ham on his takeaways from tonight’s loss. pic.twitter.com/SJ4WIwg5qQ
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) March 4, 2023
.@AntDavis23 (38 pts, 5 reb) discusses the #Lakers miscues in the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/zqaCz4rILx
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) March 4, 2023