WASHINGTON (AP) — This was hardly the ideal way for LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers to cap what amounted to an eventful week of highs and lows.
And arriving one night after what seemed to be a breakthrough performance, this dud demonstrated just how much more room for improvement four-time NBA MVP James and his new teammates have.
James shot just 5 for 16, managing merely a season-worst 13 points. He and the rest of the Lakers put up barely any resistance at the defensive end and trailed by as many as 27 points while stumbling their way to a 128-110 loss to the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.
“We’re a good team,” James insisted afterward. “Tonight was just one of those instances where we didn’t play well.”
That’s certainly true, at both ends of the court and in various ways.
The 22 turnovers. The 51-43 rebounding deficit. The 0-for-8 start on 3-point attempts. The way they allowed Wizards point guard John Wall to dominate en route to a 40-point, 14-assist performance.
“Not a lot of good to take from that, other than the lesson of: You don’t show up to play in the NBA, you will not win,” LA coach Luke Walton said.
His club wraps up a four-game road swing at the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.
Consider what went on over the past week.
On Monday, James and former teammate Dwyane Wade met for what was almost certainly the final time in their NBA careers, with the Lakers topping Wade’s Miami Heat 108-105.
In Los Angeles’ next game, a 126-111 loss at Houston on Thursday, James and other Lakers occasionally kept their hands behind their backs at the defensive end, an indication of what they thought about the way the referees were making many foul calls when James Harden — who had a 50-point triple-double — and the Rockets had the ball.
And on Saturday, James and point guard Lonzo Ball each had a triple-double — a double triple-double that only one other pair of Lakers teammates ever accomplished, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar way back in 1982 — in a 128-100 win at the Charlotte Hornets.
If that appeared to be a sign that the Lakers were coming together as a group, and specifically that James and Ball could coexist successfully, Sunday’s setback raised a few questions.
Not, though, among the Lakers themselves.
“Nights like this happen. It’s a long season. … But it’s just a process,” said Ball, who had 10 points and four assists against the Wizards.
One surprising aspect of Sunday was that the Lakers had not previously been troubled by playing on consecutive days this season: They entered this one with a 5-1 record in the second game of back-to-back sets.
Perhaps that’s why Walton sounded so optimistic about where his team that’s fourth in the West stood — and where it was headed — before tipping off against the Wizards.
“Well, we’re moving in the right direction. We have been for a while. The more we can get on road trips together, get practice time together, go through adversity together, the stronger our team’s going get,” the coach said during his pregame session with the media. “As of right now, I’m very happy where we’re at. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”
The way his team played later in the evening showed just how accurate that final sentence was.
AP freelancer Jake Lloyd contributed to this report.
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