The Lakers’ sad start to the season hit its most crushing moment against a fitting team.
Los Angeles blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead against the Pacers on Monday night, the game ending on rookie Andrew Nembhard’s 3-pointer at the buzzer after a scramble off of a missed shot.
“Everything has to go wrong for you to lose a game like that and everything went wrong,” LeBron James said.
The 1116-115 defeat comes against an Indiana team that Los Angeles has long been linked to in trade rumors. The Pacers have been seen as the most likely team for Russell Westbrook to be traded to along with draft picks. Buddy Hield and Myles Turner have been the names most frequently mentioned as possibly heading back to the Lakers.
It would be a chance to get rid of the ill-fitting Westbrook, while adding more shooting around James in an attempt not to waste another season with the other 37-year-old generational star.
Both teams are off to surprising starts, though, further complicating any trade talks. The loss dropped the Lakers to 7-12, while the win pushed the upstart Pacers to 12-8.
“Today’s players do a good job of dealing with the noise. I just think there’s so much of it,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Our guys are extremely professional — you’re talking about Buddy and Myles — we all know about that stuff. These guys have been great for us this year. They’ve been just great. They’ve been dependable veterans and they’re both having years that are among the best of their entire career. It’s been great to be with those guys.
“I can see where people would have interest in them,” he said, and laughed. “I have a lot of interest in not trading them, you know?”
Westbrook had one of his better games of the season, scoring 24 points with six assists and four rebounds. But it was not enough for the Lakers, who had won five of six games before this heartbreaker. After hosting the Blazers on Wednesday night, the Lakers head east for a challenging six-game road trip.
On Monday, Tyrese Haliburton scored 24 points and hit a tying layup with 39 seconds left for the Pacers, who trailed 101-84 early in the fourth. James hit a one-handed floater with 20.9 seconds left, and Turner missed an ensuing 3-point attempt for Indiana — but Haliburton got the long rebound and eventually found Nembhard alone on the perimeter with a crosscourt pass.
The Canadian second-round pick from Gonzaga drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the night over the onrushing James’ outstretched hand. The bucket crushed the LA crowd and set off a frenzied on-court group celebration that even included Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard.
“I think you stay calm (because) you work in the gym for those types of moments,” Nembhard said. “You’ve just got to bring your confidence, and when it comes, you’ve just got to step up for the team in that way. I think it was a great team win. We had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys, and it was just my turn to step up in that moment.”
Haliburton had 14 assists while rookie Bennedict Mathurin added 23 points for the Pacers, who avoided their first back-to-back losses since October in dramatic fashion.
“To be able to hang in, keep your sights on the rim and let it go over a 6-9, 6-10 player is special,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you have success like tonight, when you overcome some odds to find a way, it’s just a joyous moment for everybody to appreciate.”
Anthony Davis had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who were well on their way to their sixth victory in seven games before their defense and ball movement both faltered down the stretch. Davis missed one of two free throws right after the Pacers missed three consecutive layups and tip-in attempts in the final minute, leaving the door open for Nembhard’s eventual heroics.
James had 21 points and seven rebounds, while Russell Westbrook scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half and energized a crowd that seemed thrilled to be witnessing a corner-turning evening for the slow-starting Lakers — until Indiana closed with a 20-8 run in the catastrophic final five minutes.
“I wish we would have been a lot more aggressive, continued playing with pace, and also being organized and continuing to move the ball,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “And that falls on me.”
— With AP