Lakers still frustrated by officiating, but looking in mirror, too

EL SEGUNDO — The common thread between the last two games between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings is De’Aaron Fox – and what is or isn’t a foul.

Earlier this month, the Kings felt the sting of a tight whistle when Fox, the 25-year-old franchise star, hip-checked Dennis Schröder and sent him to the line for the game-winning free throws. On Wednesday night, however, Kendrick Nunn was positive that Fox had gotten the benefit of superstar treatment when Fox bumped up against him when he nailed a 3-pointer with seven seconds left.

“He was pretty much under me as I was shooting. Under me. And that’s a foul,” Nunn told Southern California News Group after the game. “Anybody else do that, they’re calling a foul. If the role is reversed and I do that to Fox, they’re gonna call it a foul. So they missed that call, and it cost us the game.”

Nunn’s words were validated on Thursday afternoon by the NBA’s last two-minute report, which determined that the officiating crew let a foul by Fox go, denying Nunn the chance to go to the line and potentially tie the score: “Fox (SAC) steps forward and initiates contact with Nunn’s (LAL) body, which affects his jump shot attempt.”

The missed call wounded the Lakers doubly: Max Christie was caught seconds later with a clear path foul that ultimately condemned the Lakers to defeat, their third in four games. Last two-minute reports have been a sense of mounting frustration for the Lakers lately: In their loss to Dallas, officials missed a key call that could have sent LeBron James to win the game at the free-throw line in the first overtime, and the team screeched injustice when a late wrist clamp by Joel Embiid was defended in a report about the Lakers’ loss to Philadelphia.

Even before the report was released, Coach Darvin Ham hinted that a non-call on Nunn’s shot seemed like it could have gone either way: “I mean, you go back and look at it and there was a little bump.”

All that being said, the Lakers are hyper-aware after their last three losses came by a combined 10 points that there are aspects of the game they can execute better, too.

They squandered a number of possessions in the final 6½ minutes of Wednesday’s game from a 101-all tie. They didn’t score on seven of the final 11 possessions. In the span from five minutes remaining to two minutes remaining, the Lakers had a shot-clock violation, then had to force a pair of 3-point attempts to avoid shot-clock violations.

Juan Toscano-Anderson pointed to some of his own mistakes late: He fouled Fox with 12 seconds remaining, putting the Lakers in a four-point hole. As for the clock violations, Toscano-Anderson said being aware of the clock is one of the fundamental principles of basketball, and the team needs a better feel for it.

“I think sometimes we do get caught watching,” he said. “And I’ll speak from my own experience. I can’t attest to anybody else’s experience. Sometimes I get watching and I’m not watching the clock anymore. That’s, I don’t want to say unprofessional on my part, but that’s what comes with being a professional, knowing the clock, knowing what’s going on within the game.”

The one point of grace the Lakers enjoy is that the Western Conference isn’t really getting away from them. As of Thursday morning, they were 2½ games back of the No. 6 seed and 1½ games behind the No. 10 seed. A play-in spot (seeds 7-10) is still a reasonable goal. A top-six spot isn’t crazy to hope for, especially if Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker return in short order. Davis participated in portions of practice on Thursday, while official updates on Reaves and Walker, who have missed a slew of games, are expected on Friday.

“The extra source of motivation is knowing that we have Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook,” Ham said. “We got Lonnie and Austin about to get healthy. So that’s even more motivation. You can never have enough bullets. I’m excited to see us once we get whole.”

In the meantime, the Lakers have the rough-and-tumble Memphis Grizzlies (31-13) up next for a nationally televised game. A No. 2 seed last season, the Grizzlies are jockeying at the top of the West behind their athletic and cocksure star Ja Morant who never misses a moment to relish the spotlight of Los Angeles. One of the last times he visited the Lakers, he soared above Avery Bradley for a chase-down block that is considered one of his most impressive highlights.

The Grizzlies also don’t hesitate to spout off about how good they are: Morant famously said in an ESPN interview that his team is “fine in the West,” not fearing any opponent in their own conference. Toscano-Anderson’s Golden State Warriors bested Memphis in the playoffs last year (the Grizzlies had to finish the series without Morant), and came away with a flattering impression of the group.

“They have leadership over there that they follow in Ja Morant,” he said. “Seems like everybody buys in over there. They all have one another’s back. I know this from playing them a lot. And they are really good. So, it’s going to be a challenge. They are one of the better teams in this league. I think it will be a really good test for us. And we’ll see what happens. I think we can compete.”

JAMES STILL LEADS WEST IN ALL-STAR VOTING

With All-Star voting wrapping up on Saturday night, it seems like a clear bet that James will be a team captain for a sixth consecutive year.

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The final update of fan voting released Thursday shows James leading all candidates with 6.5 million votes, edging Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has just under 6 million to lead the Eastern Conference. James is well ahead so far of his next closest Western competitor, Golden State’s Steph Curry with 5.1 million votes. The 38-year-old James is the sixth-leading scorer in the NBA (29.8 ppg) and has been a team captain for every season of the most recent pick-a-team All-Star format – and his handpicked roster has also won five straight times.

Davis could also be an All-Star starter, despite missing nearly half the season so far with injuries. Davis had 3.8 million votes, good for third among frontcourt players and fifth overall in the West, behind James, Curry, Dallas guard Luka Doncic (4.9 million) and Denver center Nikola Jokic (4.7 million). Russell Westbrook landed in sixth among Western guards with just under a million votes, while Austin Reaves landed in eighth place (showing the power of the Lakers’ voting bloc more so than actual All-Star credentials) with just under 400,000 votes.

GRIZZLIES AT LAKERS

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Crypto.com Arena

TV/Radio: Spectrum Sports Net, ESPN, 710 AM, 1330 AM

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