LOS ANGELES — It was quite a night for former draft picks of the Lakers. Unfortunately, a number of them happen to now play for the New York Knicks.
The hard-charging scoring game of Julius Randle (33 points) and the clutch play of Josh Hart proved to be a stick in the Lakers’ side on Sunday afternoon in a 112-108 loss to the Knicks. The Lakers (33-35) made an 8-0 push in the last two-and-a-half minutes, but ultimately couldn’t catch one of the best-performing Eastern Conference teams since the trade deadline.
The defeat put a dent in their own ambitions, as they lost the chance to improve to .500 for the first time all season and kept them locked in a four-way record tie with New Orleans, Utah and Oklahoma City, but stuck in 11th place thanks to unfavorable tie-breakers.
They have a chance this week to improve that quickly with a quick roadtrip of back-to-back games against the Pelicans and last-place Houston. But it was painful to see a game they trailed by just two points in the final 10 seconds get away from them.
“This one hurt,” D’Angelo Russell said. “This one hurt us.”
Russell had a season-high 33 points, hitting his first five shots and looking particularly energized in the first three quarters, matching Randle’s bully-ball game with long-range finesse. But while he made his biggest splash in Friday’s win in the fourth quarter, he was muted in the deciding frame on Sunday. He shot just 1 for 5 in the final quarter for two points.
For the second straight game, Anthony Davis struggled to make his impact felt on offense, finishing with 17 points and 16 rebounds. He was outdone by New York’s R.J. Barrett, who had 30 points as Randle’s co-star. It was a game in which LeBron James’ absence was particularly felt – he had played a leading role in a win in New York in January.
Davis said he was satisfied with his defense, but on the other end admitted “I wasn’t there.” He bristled over his 8 for 18 shooting mark, as well as a 1 for 5 night at the free throw line (he’s shooting 81% this season).
“I played terrible,” added Davis. “Couldn’t find my shot: free throws, layups, everything. The guys did their job. I didn’t do my job tonight.
Of everyone watching the game, the Lakers’ scouting department had to feel particularly proud. They saw dazzling scoring displays from Randle, the No. 7 overall pick in 2014, and Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. While Hart, the 30th overall pick in 2018, didn’t have quite the shooting night as Austin Reaves at 4 for 6 with 13 points, his two 3-pointers were not quite as important as his 8 rebounds – including an offensive board in the last four minutes that helped the Knicks go up by nine.
But ultimately Barrett helped drive a wedge on the scoreboard. The forward scored 13 of his points in the fourth and sparked a defining run with three straight baskets after the Lakers had tied up the game at 93. His last basket, a running finger roll in transition with 2:34 left, turned out to be the winning score.
After a mad-cap possession in which the Knicks managed to run a lot of time off the clock, Hart made two free throws with five seconds left to all but ensure the win.
The starting lineup especially underwhelmed outside of Russell and Davis. Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Troy Brown Jr. combined for just 15 points on 5 for 23 shooting. The Lakers played most of the critical minutes with a bench-heavy unit.
Russell said when the Knicks started trapping him late in the game, some of the bumpy parts of the Lakers’ still-forming chemistry showed. They struggled to create easy looks for Davis as a team.
“With a new group, it’s hard to play off of what’s not there,” he said. “When you don’t have that chemistry, your second and third options aren’t as fluid because we don’t have that continuity with our chemistry as a group. So I think that are things we got to work on.”
Coach Darvin Ham has had the benefit of recent wins to cool some of the pressure on the team. But after the latest game, he was again foisting urgency on his group.
“If we’re saying we’re a playoff team, which wholeheartedly we all believe we are, everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, believes this newly assembled group that we have can do big things in the postseason,” he said. “But we gotta get there. We gotta do our work.”