Lakers' Faint Playoff Hopes Eclipsed by Suns in Baffling Loss - NBC Southern California
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Lakers' Faint Playoff Hopes Eclipsed by Suns in Baffling Loss

Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton combined for 51 points and the Phoenix Suns scorched the Los Angeles Lakers, 118-109, on Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

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    Lakers' Faint Playoff Hopes Eclipsed by Suns in Baffling Loss
    Rick Scuteri/AP
    Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, dives for a loose ball in front of Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

    Stick a fork in them.

    Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton combined for 51 points and the Phoenix Suns scorched the Los Angeles Lakers, 118-109, on Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

    Day-by-day, game-by-game, the Lakers season seemingly is going down in flames.

    "Obviously we needed this game," LeBron James told reporters in the locker room after the loss. "We wanted to play well. At times we played well. It's just unfortunate with the opportunity we've had, we haven't been able to seize the opportunity." 

    The day after Christmas, the Lakers were in fourth in the Western Conference, and just 2.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors after blowing them out at Oracle Arena.

    Since that day--which coincided with LeBron James' groin injury that saw him miss a career-high 18 games--the Lakers have been in a free fall, tumbling into 10th in the West, and now in grave danger of missing the playoffs.

    "We have to pick up our effort on the defensive end if we plan on making this playoff push," said Lakers' center JaVale McGee was a perfect 10-for-10 from the field. "We need to sit back and put into perspective what's at hand, Me personally, I haven't had a long summer in a while, and I don't want to have a long summer. Everyone needs to put it all out there and leave it all out there on the court."

    After the loss to the Suns, the Lakers are 4.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the 8th and final playoff spot with just 19 games remaining in the season.

    "We can't keep looking at the standings, the standings are going to be what they are no matter what," James said. "I've never been a guy to look that the standings. You just have to go out there and do your job and see what happens after that."

    The Lakers biggest problem since the turn of the new calendar year has been defense, among the league's worst in opponent's points per game, Los Angeles struggled on the defensive end once again, allowing the Suns to score 66 points in the first half, and 119 for the game.

    "Third quarter we allowed them to jump on us," said James. "They got up double digits. It wasn't there throughout 48 minutes all night. That's the frustrating part of it all."

    For most of the game, the Lakers looked lost and disinterested. Their energy level was low, and their sense of urgency and defensive intensity was lacking.

    "The tell tonight was our effort to chase down those rebounds, to chase down loose balls, and to be the aggressor," said Lakers' head coach Luke Walton after the loss. "That's why we ended up with a loss tonight."

    Less than 24 hours earlier, after one of their best performances of the season through the first 46 minutes of the game, the Lakers inconsistency continued to rear its ugly head, as the team has played up or down to the level of their competition throughout the entirety of the season.

    "We get up for the great teams and play down to the level of the other teams. That's not a recipe for sucess," said a frank and candid Kyle Kuzma. "We have to figure out a way to play for one another. We're losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to. We've lost to every bad team in the league, and that's unacceptable. Obviously, there's something wrong with this team."

    After an atrocious first three quarters, the Lakers trailed by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, but responded with a 21-to-6 run to get within three points with just over a minute remaining.

    "We need to be a lot better," said Walton. "I'm happy with the fight that we showed in the fourth quarter, but that's the desperation we need to start the game with."

    Unfortunately for the Lakers, the game may have come down to their Achilles' heel: free throws. 

    Phoenix made six straight free throws in the final seconds, and James missed two crucial gimmes when they game was still within reach.

    "That's frustrating for me personally on how I'm shooting free throws," said James. "For the individual part of it, that's frustrating for me. I definitely could have played a lot better throughout the whole game."

    Overall, the Suns made 34 free throws to the Lakers 15. Los Angeles shot 65 percent from the charity stripe, and missed eight free throws in total.

    The Suns shot a blistering 52 percent from the field, and were led by rookie, and first overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft Deandre Ayton, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

    Booker had 25 points and five three-pointers. Kelly Oubre Jr. added 14 points and Josh Jackson chipped in 16 off the bench.

    James led the Lakers with 27 points, 16 assists, and nine rebounds. Brandon Ingram continued his unconscious stretch of scoring with 25 points. Kyle Kuzma had 13 points, and JaVale McGee had one of his best games with 21 points.

    "I thought JaVale was great," Walton said of McGee. "He was playing with energy. The group as a whole didn't have it. Until the fourth quarter we didn't engage ourselves."

    Surpassing the Mamba

    LeBron James surpassed Lakers' legend Kobe Bryant for fifth place on the NBA's all-time career field goals list during the game.

    Notes and Next

    Lonzo Ball (left ankle sprain) did not play in the game. Lance Stephenson missed his second straight game with a sprained right toe.

    Los Angeles will host their Staples Center co-tenants, the Clippers, on Monday night in what is certainly a "must-win" game against the team their chasing.

    All quotes courtesy of Spectrum SportsNet.

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