LOS ANGELES — With forward Anthony Davis out indefinitely, the Lakers need to find ways to fill the 6-foot-10 void, both offensively and defensively.
“We’re just trying to figure out ways to make up for that lost production,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “It may not be the same exact way that he gave it to us, but we’re just trying to be creative and see how we can still get points in the paint, instead of depending on him to go get every defensive rebound.”
Davis was averaging 27.4 points and 12.1 rebounds and posting 2.6 blocked shots per game before suffering a stress injury in his right foot. His presence can make it difficult for opponents to get into the paint.
Without Davis, however, the Lakers suffered a deflating loss to the second-worst team in the NBA. They lost to the Charlotte Hornets, 134-130, on Friday night in their final home game of 2022. It was the Lakers’ (13-19) third loss in a row as they prepare for a five-game road trip that begins Sunday in Dallas.
The Lakers trailed by 10 points with 7:29 left to play. They traded baskets with Charlotte – which won for just the second time in the past 11 games – but couldn’t get any traction until the final two minutes when they suddenly picked up their pace and pulled within 129-126 on a 3-pointer by Patrick Beverley.
James scored or assisted on 11 straight points in the final 2:30, and he drove for the tying layup with 30 seconds left, but two ill-timed fouls cost them a chance to show they could still win without their second-best player.
Gordon Hayward got the tiebreaking layup on a goaltending call against LeBron James with 6.3 seconds to play.
After Hayward got an offensive rebound and drew the goaltending call, James fed Dennis Schröder for an open corner 3-point attempt after losing his right shoe – but the German guard missed, and P.J. Washington hit two free throws to ice it for the Hornets.
The Lakers’ effort was there, but not the kind of production they are going to need to make a move in the standings. Six players scored in double figures, led by James’ 34 points (18 in the fourth quarter). Austin Reaves contributed 20 points in his first game since spraining his ankle, and Russell Westbrook added 17 in his return to the court.
Thomas Bryant had eight points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers before leaving the court with 3:16 to play while holding his right shoulder in obvious pain. Bryant, who returned to watch the final possessions, has been solid as the starting center in Davis’ absence, and a significant injury would be another major blow to the rotation.
Ham said while they wait for Davis’ foot to heal, the coaching staff is “just thinking about how we can recalibrate and get on the right side of things.”
The Lakers found themselves on the wrong side of another game, despite having Westbrook and Reaves back in the lineup.
Both were available Friday after missing the last two games, a pair of high-scoring road losses. It was the first time this season the Lakers have allowed consecutive teams to score more than 130 points.
The Lakers have allowed the most points in the NBA this month and they rank 26th in the league for the season, allowing 117.3 points per game.
And it appeared early in the third quarter, the Lakers could be facing a similar outcome.
Two days after getting run off the same court by the Clippers shortly before halftime, Charlotte jumped to an 88-72 lead over the Lakers early in the third quarter with a 21-5 run immediately after halftime as the Lakers struggled to find their shot.
The Lakers’ bench battled back and trimmed the deficit to five before the Hornets scored the final five points of the quarter for a 97-87 lead.
In the second quarter, the Lakers saw their slim lead disappear quickly as the Hornets went on a 17-3 run to lead, 44-34. A 3-pointer by James and three quick baskets by Schroder got the Lakers back into the game.
Another 3-pointer by James with 3.1 seconds left sent the teams into halftime tied at 67.
Late in the first half, Reaves seemed to tweak his left ankle which kept him out of the previous two games. But he stayed in the game and had 10 points at halftime.
Washington scored 24 points for Charlotte, while former Chino Hills High star LaMelo Ball had 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Terry Rozier also scored 23 in his return from a two-game absence with a bruised right hip.
More to come on this story.