Have we gotten to the point where we’re just hoping the Lakers can stay competitive in games without LeBron James and Anthony Davis? Yes. And down their two superstars for perhaps the final time this season, the rest of the roster gave a worthy effort for the opening three quarters before seeing Utah pull away in the fourth to win comfortably, 122-109.
The effort was spearheaded by one of Dwight Howard’s best games of the year, as he totaled 21 points and 12 rebounds while Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Donovan Mitchell, though, continued to be a thorn in the Lakers’ side this season with 29 points, while Rudy Gobert exposed the Lakers lack of height with 25 points and 17 rebounds.
Dwight turned back the clock in the first half offensively, scoring 15 points in the opening two periods, highlighted by an in-rhythm, made 3-pointer that wasn’t even a late shot clock heave. Westbrook excelled offensively as well, but the Lakers could not get defensive stops to match their strong offensive showing.
The overwhelming positive sign, though, was that the Lakers cared. That small praise is both an indictment on this team’s past efforts, and a positive sign heading into the final week. As has long been abundantly clear with this team, their level of effort can wax and wane dramatically on any given night, but with LeBron James and Anthony Davis looking set to return on Friday, this team appears committed to at least giving a damn in the final week of the season.
On Thursday, however, effort wasn’t enough to overcome this roster’s shortcomings. It was enough to keep the game competitive and allow the Lakers to make a couple of runs, though. Even into the second half, another improvement over Tuesday’s game.
The Jazz started to put distance between themselves and the Lakers late in the third quarter, opening up a double-digit lead after 3-pointers from Mike Conley and Adam Sandler co-star Juancho Hernangomez to lead 99-85 heading into the fourth. Runs to end the second and third quarters helped the Jazz turn single-digit leads into double-digit ones and create separation in each instance.
The Jazz flirted with blowing the game open on a number of occasions in the final frame but the Lakers did just enough to keep the final score respectable. They even had a chance to cut the lead to seven points late on a Malik Monk 3-point attempt, but he missed long and Bogdan Bogdanovic converted his long-range effort on the other end, opening up a 13-point lead with 4: 49 left.
The Lakers had more opportunities to cut into the deficit in the final minutes, but never took advantage of them as Utah ultimately won the game without much resistance from the Lakers down the stretch.
With the loss, the Lakers drop to 31-45 on the season, falling to the 11th seed and out of the play-in games in the Western Conference as the Spurs own the tiebreaker over the Lakers and hold the 10th seed as a result.
The Lakers are right back in action on Friday against the Pelicans, a game they are expected to have LeBron and AD back for. Tip-off for the game is slated for 7:30 pm PT on NBA TV and Spectrum SportsNet.
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