With LeBron James still out, Lakers rally to defeat Knicks in OT thriller

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LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 11: Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) drives to the basket.
Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker puts up a shot in front of New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina during the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 101-99 overtime win Tuesday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The optimism that flowed out of the Lakers’ camp following the weekend was a little muted Tuesday, the presumed return of LeBron James put on hold for at least another game while he gave his injured ankle another day to rest.

Following a full practice Monday — a practice seemingly held explicitly for James to get back on the court — team doctors told coach Frank Vogel that James would be unable to play against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, ensuring the Lakers would again have to play short-handed.

Scoring was a struggle, but the Lakers were up for the fight, Wesley Matthews sending the game to overtime with a follow shot and Talen Horton-Tucker’s three-pointer in overtime capping a wild 101-99 win.

“The kid has confidence. He has heart,” Anthony Davis said of Horton-Tucker.

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Already missing James and starting point guard Dennis Schroder, the Lakers also lost fill-in starter Alex Caruso in the first half, the sort foot that’s bothered him for the last two games finally catching up with him.

The playmaking duties all fell onto Horton-Tucker’s shoulders, the second-year guard taking on the greatest offensive responsibility of his young career. He threw the ball all over the court, sometimes to his teammates, sometimes to the Knicks. But with the game on the line, he knocked down the three-pointer, his second big-time shot in the last eight days after scoring late against Denver.

The stretches without him were particularly rocky, the Lakers trying to split playmaking duties with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Davis, Marc Gasol and Ben McLemore.

Predictably, the offense was clunky. Luckily for the Lakers, Kuzma returned after missing one game with back soreness to help ignite the offense in stretches, scoring 16 of his 23 points in the first half.

For long stretches the Lakers didn’t have nearly enough offense without their usual ballhandlers, a miserable second half defined by scoring droughts and standstill offensive possessions.

Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, right, celebrates with teammates after a 101-99 victory over the New York Knicks.
Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, right, celebrates with his teammates after a 101-99 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

For the Knicks, seeing his former team did nothing to slow Julius Randle down, the All-NBA lock showing his blossoming all-around offensive game. Randle, alongside the resurgent Derrick Rose, have the Knicks in good shape for the approaching playoffs, the team knowing exactly who they are and what they have.

For the Lakers, that kind of knowledge still requires a vivid imagination.

Before the game, Vogel wouldn’t commit to James making his return Wednesday in their regular-season home finale.

Vogel said James came out of Monday’s practice without a setback, but team doctors decided it’d be best to hold him out.

“He’s going to come back when it’s safe to and when it makes sense to,” Vogel said.

The Lakers have three more games following Tuesday, hosting the Rockets before traveling to Indiana and New Orleans for the final weekend of the season, their postseason fate still undecided.

Reaching the top six in the conference seemed unlikely before the Lakers lost Caruso, and watching repeated turnovers and wasted offensive sets in the fourth quarter with the Lakers’ top three point-guard options out wasn’t too inspiring.

But somehow they escaped with a win, their hopes still alive.

Up next for Lakers: vs. Houston Rockets

When: 7:30

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330

Update: Before the Lakers play their final game at Staples Center during the regular season against the lowly Rockets, they finally will unveil their 2020 NBA championship banner.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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