Lakers shoot for stars while young core looks to brighten

EL SEGUNDO — Perhaps no one was more candid during exit interviews Thursday about their feelings on a star-level free agent joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer than rookie Josh Hart. 

When asked if, as a member of the team’s young core, he’s excited about the mere possibility of a max-level player coming to L.A., he said he “definitely” was. But in almost the same  breath, he offered something of a caveat. 

“If that that happens, I think it could be nothing but great for this team and for this franchise,” Hart said. “But our job as players is to work like we’re not going to, to work as if nobody’s gonna come here in free agency, and to work as hard as you can to get to that next level. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

In his 170-word answer, Hart provided a glimpse into the mindset of himself, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram when it comes to their future roles for the Lakers. And looking more closely at how those three players developed during the season, that mindset is hidden in plain sight. 

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Lakers looking to stay motivated

The Los Angeles Lakers have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. And with just eight games to go in the regular season, the team is looking for ways to stay motivated through the stretch run.

Forward Brandon Ingram, who just returned from a groin injury that’s kept him out since March 1, said he felt somewhat disappointed that the team could no longer make the playoffs. But despite that, he and the rest of the Lakers are focusing on how they can keep their momentum going over the final eight games of the year, seven of which are in Staples Center.

“I didn’t lose sleep over it,” Walton said of being eliminated from the playoffs at Wednesday’s shootaround. “I’ve said all year: It’s about the journey we’re on and where we’re trying to get to. Obviously we wanna make the playoffs, but it’s part of the reason why we don’t talk about it all the time. Because now that we haven’t made it, we still have other goals we’re trying to reach and we still have other things we’re trying to do. I would expect our players to come in and play just as hard even though we can’t make the playoffs now.”

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Turnovers bury Lakers in 92-91 loss to Heat

LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t perfect. And the Los Angeles Lakers still had a chance to pull it off.

But Isaiah Thomas missed a jump shot with 3.5 seconds left, and the Lakers lost to the Miami Heat 92-91 on Friday night at Staples Center.

“They were tougher than we were tonight,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “which is really frustrating.”

The Lakers committed 20 turnovers and scored less than 100 points for the first time since Jan. 19. Miami committed only 11 turnovers.

“I didn’t even know we had that many,” Julius Randle said.

Walton was clearly frustrated after the game, and pointed to sloppy passing as the main culprit to Los Angeles giving the ball away as much as it did.

“We were telegraphing our passes, we were passing out of motion, they were getting deflections,” Walton said. “We couldn’t even make a post past tonight, which is basic fundamentals of passing.”

Randle had 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Brook Lopez added 18 points on 4 of 5 shooting from the 3-point line. Travis Wear contributed 11 points.

Goran Dragic led the Heat with 30 points, while Kelly Olynyk scored 17 points off the bench.

The Heat opened a six-point lead with 7:30 remaining in the game, and an 88-81 advantage with 5:51 left. The Lakers scored five straight points to pull within 88-86 with 3:30 left in the game.

Kyle Kuzma returned from an ankle injury and scored 11 points while also pulling down eight rebounds. He scored on a layup while falling to the ground and got up with a heavy limp. Moments later, his 3-pointer with 1:23 remaining gave Los Angeles a 91-90 lead.

Dragic slithered in the paint and scored to give Miami a 92-91 lead with 15.2 seconds remaining. It was his only basket of the fourth quarter.

“He hit really timely shots,” Kuzma said of Dragic, who had 22 points in the first half. “We couldn’t contain him all night. Kudos to him.”

Heat opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run that forced Los Angeles into an early timeout. The Lakers responded with with an 15-5 run capped by dunks from Lopez and Caldwell-Pope for a 65-61 lead.

Tyler Ennis tied the game at 28 with a jump shot. Randle gave the Lakers a 46-45 lead with an and-1 opportunity with less than 3 minutes remaining in the half. Lakers went on an 8-0 run to take a 48-45 lead with 1:33 left in the half.

Kuzma said the Lakers turned the ball over too much.

“We just were careless,” Kuzma said. “I don’t really know what it was. You would think it’d be a road game. That’s usually what we do on the road, not at home.”

Lopez called the 20 turnovers “the stat of the game.”

“I think as well as they played,” Lopez said, “we kinda did ourselves in in that regard.”

NOTES

Heat: Outscored the Lakers 18-7 in second-chance points.

Lakers: Were outscored 50-44 in the paint, where they have led the league for much of the season.

UP NEXT

Heat: Host the Denver Nuggets on Monday.

Lakers: At the Indiana Pacers on Monday.

Lopez sinks clutch free throws to beat Magic 108-107

LOS ANGELES — With 0.6 seconds remaining and the Lakers down by one, Brook Lopez marched up to the free throw-line after getting fouled. His mission, should he choose to accept it, was to make two free throws to seal a victory over the Orlando Magic.

Lopez calmly made the first, then lathered, rinsed and repeated for a 108-107 victory over the Magic at Staples Center.

“I knew I was gonna hit them,” Lopez said.

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Lakers lose late lead to end nine-game home winning streak

LOS ANGELES — The Lakers led by 11 with less than six minutes remaining, but then Damian Lillard happened.

Lillard scored 19 of his game-high 39 points in the fourth quarter and helped the Portland Trail Blazers end the Lakers’ nine-game home win streak with a 108-103 victory on Monday night.

“Damian Lillard was pretty impressive down the stretch there,” Walton said.

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Ball returns, Randle gets fifth triple-double as Lakers blow out Mavericks

LOS ANGELES — After practice on Thursday, Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas had a simple response when asked what his personal goal was for the 25 games that remained after the All-Star break.

“Win,” Thomas said.

The Lakers made good on that goal at least for one night with Friday’s 124-102 blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center.

Julius Randle led the Lakers with a triple-double of 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 and six rebounds, and Lonzo Ball had nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in his first game back after missing the last 15 with a sprained left MCL.

The Lakers held the Mavericks to just 40.7% shooting overall on what was all-around defensive effort. Los Angeles also outrebounded Dallas 61-29.

“I thought the way we were locked in and following the scouting report and the game plan was really much better tonight than it was pre-All-Star break,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of the defensive effort.

When he entered the game in the fourth quarter, Randle knew that he was only two assists away from his fifth-career triple-double. His pass to Kuzma was accurate, but Kuzma missed a dunk, much to the chagrin of Randle.

“I threw it to Kuz, a dime, and he thought he was Dr. J and tried to go on the other side,” Randle said. “It didn’t work out. But he made up for it. He made the 3, so it’s cool.”

Thomas scored 17 points and added four assists off the bench. Kuzma caught fire in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 12 points.

Randle recorded his 10th assist and secured the triple-double after passing out of a double team to Brandon Ingram, who made a 3-pointer to give the Lakers a 117-94 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Lakers led by as 23.

After a pair of three pointers by the Mavericks caused the Lakers to take an early timeout just 50 seconds into the third quarter, Los Angeles responded with a run that included Caldwell-Pope making two 3-pointers and Randle giving the Lakers a 80-58 with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter.

Dallas started the second quarter with an 11-2 run to close within eight. Ball made two consecutive 3-pointers to give Los Angeles a 42-29 lead with 8:17 remaining in the first half.

The Lakers went on an 8-0 run to regain their 18-point lead. They extended it to 22 just before the half ended and took a 63-41 lead.

BACK TO BALLIN’
Ball returned after missing the last six weeks with a left MCL injury, and said he felt good while doing it. He played 17 minutes, which Walton said was a couple minutes off his restriction.

“I’m just happy to be back,” Ball said. “I’m glad to get back on the court.”

Ball said his timing was off a little bit, and he felt his knee while sliding to the right, but was not restricted. He will not play Saturday in Sacramento.

KUZ IN TROUBLE?
Kuzma appeared in a Yahoo Sports report detailing the names of several current and former college athletes who allegedly took payments while in school from former NBA agent Andy Miller and his agency, ASM Sports.

Kuzma accepted “at least $9,500” while in school at Utah University, according to documents detailed in the report. His name showed up in expense reports from Christian Dawkins, a former associate of Miller who was arrested in late September and faces felony charges in two criminal cases tied to the federal investigation into potential NCAA violations.

Before Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Kuzma declined to comment, stating that it was a legal matter. He neither confirmed nor denied whether the report was true. He said he and his team are trying to gather all the relevant information.

Asked if he was concerned about the matter, Kuzma replied, “Nothing. Not at all.”

Student-athletes are prohibited by the NCAA to receive additional compensation or benefits while in school because they are considered amateurs, not professionals. Kuzma advocates payment for athletes, and has been vocal on social media about his views regarding the issue.

UP NEXT
Mavericks: Play the Utah Jazz on the road today on the second night of a back-to-back.

Lakers: Travel to Sacramento to play the Kings today on the second night of a back-to-back.

Ball wants to play vs. Mavericks, team noncommittal

EL SEGUNDO — Lonzo Ball said if it were his decision, he would play in tonight’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

But Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton was not so definitive in Ball’s status. He said the training staff will make the decision tomorrow regarding whether or not Ball will play after missing the last 15 games with a left MCL sprain.

“He practiced in full (Thursday),” Walton said after practice. “We’ll have to see how he responds, how he feels. But he looked good (Thursday). It was nice having him on the court.”

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