Needing wins in the most desperate way, fighting an uphill schedule and a ticking clock, normally Frank Vogel would’ve found comfort in the recipe he and the Lakers had employed.
Twice, in some of their best basketball of the season, the Lakers have used one of basketball’s best weapons — LeBron James — to play Utah center Rudy Gobert off the court.
But with a heavily-oiled grip on 10th place in the West, Vogel felt none of that comfort before Thursday’s game with the Jazz, James not even in the same state as the Lakers as he worked to recover from his sprained ankle.
Instead, here they were again, Vogel using his 37th -different starting lineup on the season in an effort to find something that could help overcome the team’s injury issues.
The Jazz beat the latest grouping of Lakers 122-109, Vogel forced to use Trevor Ariza with Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk and Stanley Johnson with the team’s two best players still unavailable.
It’s the team’s fourth straight loss and the seventh time the Lakers have been on a losing streak since the last one in early January.
The Lakers, though, are expecting to have Anthony Davis return for the first time since Feb. 16 on Friday when they host the Pelicans in a crucial game for the team’s slim postseason hopes, according to a source. Davis has missed the last 18 games, the Lakers losing 13 prior to the game with the Jazz.
James, who suffered a sprained ankle in the Lakers loss at New Orleans on Sunday, could also return Friday.
“I don’t feel like we’ve caught ourselves yet,” Vogel said pregame of the Lakers’ psyche. “That was a big blow, having Bron go down.”
While Vogel declined to provide an update definitively on either’s status, he said his two stars are “progressing well.”
Davis’ workload over the past week has increased, Vogel said, putting him in position to possibly return against the Pelicans.
“He’s been working extremely hard and he wants to get back as quickly as possible. That’s the energy that we’ve felt from Anthony in terms of once getting cleared and passing certain hurdles,” Vogel said before Thursday‘s game. “And then, obviously, ramping up his work, letting the increased workload recover and see how it responds. And he’s shown a great urgency to try to get back on the floor. So hopefully we get him back soon.”
In the meantime, the Lakers had a chance to steal a game against the ice-cold Utah Jazz, who entered the game having lost their previous five games, all coming on the road.
With wing Bojan Bogdanovic back in the starting lineup, the Jazz opened the game hitting six-straight shots, the Lakers’ broken defense still not repaired after a brutal film session following their loss to Dallas Tuesday.
“I need to see more tenacity defensively,” Vogel said pregame.
Execution and ability, though, were another, the Lakers unable to consistently defend with too many inconsistent defenders on the floor at seemingly all times.
The Lakers were able to push the Jazz at multiple points throughout the game, Howard and Westbrook carrying the offense, before Utah pulled away in the fourth.
Westbrook scored 24, Howard had 21 and Monk scored 14. Donovan Mitchell led five different Jazz players in double figures with 29.
This all sets the stage for Friday to be, perhaps, the most important game of this season with the Pelicans.
With just six games left, the Lakers are even with the Spurs, with San Antonio hosting one of the NBA’s worst teams post-All-Star game, Portland, for the first of two games with the Trail Blazers.
The Lakers are 11-9 when James, Davis and Westbrook all play, meaning the Lakers have a chance.
But comfort? Vogel and this team lost that a long time ago.
Up next for the Lakers: Friday vs. New Orleans
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: The Lakers blew a huge lead in New Orleans on Sunday, setting the stage for a frantic final six games where the team needs to make a run to sneak into the NBA’s play-in tournament as one of the final two seeds. The Pelicans are ahead of the Lakers in those standings. Those hopes should get a boost with Davis, and maybe even James, returning to the court, but time is short.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism