The evidence doesn’t get clearer than this.
LeBron James had a triple-double. Russell Westbrook efficiently scored 30 points and turned the ball over only eleven. And the Lakers had six players score in double figures — all against one of the coldest teams in the league.
And still, it wasn’t good enough.
A 139-130 overtime loss to the Rockets on Wednesday in Houston to one of the worst teams in the NBA didn’t feel surprising. And it didn’t look shocking. Postgame, no one acted like it was.
Instead, it looked and felt like so many of the games the Lakers have played this season, an uncorrectable flaw showing up and making their opponents look better than their record appears.
“I just think when you’re losing games, close games the way that we are, the way that we do sometimes, it affects you. You think about it,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Sometimes it carries over, and sometimes it doesn’t. So the best thing to do is not let it carry over to the next game and figure out a way to win close games and will ourselves to win close games.”
Wednesday, they looked no better or no worse than Houston, a team 32 games below .500. For 48 minutes in regulation, every second was a fight, nothing ever looking easy against a Houston team that had won just once since Feb. 4 before beating the Lakers.
“It’s surprising that we were in a game that close, that tight. But it says a lot about the Rockets,” Carmelo Anthony said.
But, maybe it’s the opposite, saying a lot about the Lakers and their inability to separate themselves from a team with their eyes set on a distant future instead of one, like the Lakers, who are trying to make the most of the present because they ‘re only getting older.
“We have a very small margin of error this year,” James said after the loss.
Things for the Lakers are hard — Wednesday being a perfect example.
Pregame, music echoed near the loading dock as a shirtless LeBron James went through strength training, rapping along with every word as it came out of the speaker. As teammates walked past, they smiled, knowing that James would be back on the court after missing the team’s loss in San Antonio.
A dominant showing against the Rockets would’ve helped erase Monday’s clunker against the Spurs, the game James missed. It could’ve been viewed as a continuation of some of the momentum they built in to win against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
Instead, their defense never made Houston uncomfortable. After, Westbrook accused his team of messing around with the game, the Rockets scoring 68 first-half points to outdo any offensive rhythms the Lakers found.
And while the game tightened quickly with a more serious, focused defensive approach in the second half, by then Houston had gained confidence and each mistake the Lakers made felt like a fatal one.
James and Westbrook missed jump shots in the final minutes early in the shot clock, the team failing to get into the paint against a Houston defense that had no answer for them around the rim.
And though they had a chance to finish the game off on its final possession, Anthony’s open, long two-point jumper didn’t go in — opening the door for an avalanche to hit the Lakers in overtime.
Rookie Jalen Green scored the first seven points of overtime (Houston would have 10 consecutive), and the game was instantly out of reach, the Lakers unable to regather their footing.
Green finished with 32, the Rockets hitting an absurd seven of eight from the field in overtime against a helpless defense.
“Our guys competed,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “They fought.”
They did. And that should be as concerning as anything.
Unlike other “bad” losses this season, this was the Lakers fairly locked in. Even as James struggled in his return after missing one game with a sore left knee, missing all but one of his nine three-point attempts and turning it over five times, the Lakers mostly hummed offensively.
Westbrook attacked off the dribble and found gaps off the ball. He got to the free-throw line. He looked comfortable.
Malik Monk bounced back after a tough night in San Antonio to score 20. Austin Reaves had 17 on just seven shots and DJ Augustin had 16 on just nine attempts.
It’s a good of a recipe as the Lakers could’ve cooked up to get a win against a team like the Rockets, who were missing two key players in Christian Wood and Jae’Sean Tate.
It wasn’t good enough.
“We get everybody’s best shot,” Vogel said, repeating a line the Lakers have used a lot this season.
Maybe it’s not just the awe from facing a team with four of the NBA’s top 75 players ever. Maybe everyone is simply getting nothing but their best shots against a Lakers defense that was dismantled this offseason and made even weaker with Anthony Davis still injured.
Davis, who was out of a walking boot on his sprained right foot, is scheduled to be re-evaluated next week, the Lakers still searching for ways to survive without him.
The team has lost nine-straight on the road, dating to Jan. 25 and they’ll play in Los Angeles only three more times until April.
“When we make a mistake or we break down defensively or we don’t get a good look at the basket, teams are literally making us pay every time,” James said. “It’s not like we’re getting away with things.
“And it’s just that simple.”
The Lakers, again, provided the proof on the court.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism