LeBron James closes in on scoring record, but is Kyrie Irving still in the picture?
Count it out: five seconds. Hardly enough time for anything meaningful to happen in the first 47 minutes of an NBA game.
But Saturday evening, five bad seconds at the end of the third quarter shifted the game dramatically and helped send the Lakers home losers, 131-126 to the New Orleans Pelicans, who had lost their last 10 games.
The Lakers (25-29) fell to 13th in the 15-team Western Conference, but still just two games out of a spot in the play-in tournament.
New Orleans led for just 13 seconds before storming past L.A. in the fourth quarter, powered by the Lakers’ disastrous finish to the third quarter, which started with an easy bucket by the Pelicans that was followed by a reckless inbounds pass, a Pelicans steal and a momentum-swinging three.
They’re the kinds of letdowns that have led to increasing frustration inside the Lakers locker room, over what coach Darvin Ham calls “self-inflicted” errors.
Saturday, the mistakes — none larger than Wenyen Gabriel’s inbounds pass — proved fatal.
“How many games do we have left?” LeBron James said after scoring 27 points, pulling him to within 36 of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA record.
“Twenty-eight games left, we’re still doing the same stuff over and over.”
Changes could be coming — the trade deadline is Thursday. But after a day of rampant speculation, there's pessimism that the Lakers will swing a deal for Kyrie Irving, because of the star Brooklyn point guard’s contract demands in free agency this summer, sources with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly told The Times.
Irving is expected to seek a four-year maximum contract, with the Lakers preferring a two-year deal, aligning with the two years remaining on James’ deal.
Asked if Irving is the type of player who could help get the Lakers closer to contending for a championship, James said of course.
“Obviously that’s a — what’s the word you use? — ‘duh’ question when you talk about a player that like that,” he added.
The Lakers’ current star point guard, Russell Westbrook, who has been in trade rumors for much of his time in L.A., denied the deadline was negatively affecting the locker room, as did Anthony Davis and James.
“That’s part of the game,” James said. “We’ve got, what, one rookie in here. Shouldn’t be an issue. Happens every year. The trade deadline happens every single year.”
After scoring 72 points in the first half and leading by 12, the Lakers lazily defended in the second half, building to the game-changing final seconds of the third.
With the Lakers ahead by eight in the final 10 seconds, Westbrook took his eye off C.J. McCollum, the Pelicans guard easily getting to the basket for two of his 23 points. Gabriel threw a brutal cross-court pass that McCollum tipped and Jose Alvarado intercepted, the Pelicans guard hitting a three to cut the Lakers’ lead to three, igniting the crowd.
It’s the kind of steal Alvarado is known for and a play the Lakers discussed in their scouting report. It began a stretch in which the Pelicans scored 14 of the next 16 points and L.A. never led again.
“In that juncture of the game, it’s disheartening. It’s disappointing. But, I mean, you just gotta be aware. All antennas have to be up,” Ham said. “You have to constantly strive to be improve possession by possession by possession on both sides of the ball. And we just had a lapse. We had a mental lapse.”
After strong late play in wins at New York and Indiana, the Lakers bungled the end Saturday, making just seven of their last 21 shots. Davis, who scored 34 points, had just two in the fourth.
Westbrook, who was questionable because of an illness before being cleared at game time, played only 58 seconds in the quarter, Ham electing to close the game with James, Davis, Patrick Beverley, Dennis Schroder and Troy Brown Jr.
Former Laker Brandon Ingram scored 35 points to lead the Pelicans.
The Lakers return home for Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma City with James in reach of the record.
“I just want to win,” he said. “Want to play the game the right way and see what happens.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.