The intensity was there, Patrick Beverley pressuring the ball, Anthony Davis flying at the rim, LeBron James pushing the ball down the court. The Lakers looked focused and forceful. They looked dangerous.
And they looked late.
It was the third quarter before they started to stir, and the fourth before they started to dominate, but the hole they dug early wasn’t deep enough to bury them — at least not Thursday.
Escaping the 2-10 pit they built at the start of the season, that’s still a work in progress.
On this night, the Lakers stopped Buddy Hield on a baseline trap in the final seconds, his shot rimming out as Davis grabbed the rebound to earn the team a 112-111 win.
When will LeBron James become NBA’s all-time leading scorer?
A look at LeBron James’ pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time scoring record.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar points: 38,387
LeBron James points: 38,325
Points from record: 63 points
Projected games until record: 3
Projected record date: Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
The Lakers didn’t lead until a James three-pointer with 2:35 left after trailing by as many as 15.
The Pacers, with the game on the line in the fourth, scored only 15 points in the quarter and just five in the final 5:45.
“We take pride on the defensive end. We hold each other accountable on the defensive end. I hold myself to a high standard on the defensive end; hold the group to a high standard on the defensive end. And were able to lock in in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter — hold them to 15 points,” Davis said. “Just wanted to win a game, knowing the position that we’re in, that we have to win ball games. We don’t want to be in the play-in tournament. We want to secure a spot.”
The Lakers are far from doing that. They’re still out of the play-in tournament if the season ended Thursday.
Davis, who was not selected as a reserve for the All-Star Game, finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds to go with great late-game defense. James had 26 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Three other Lakers were in double figures.
“We’re not going anywhere without a healthy A.D. And not just a healthy A.D. — A.D. playing at an elite level on both sides of the ball,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “…No disrespect to anyone else on the roster. Obviously, we’ve got a couple of other Hall of Famers and All-Defensive guys and guys who have really established themselves to be great, high-level players in this league.
“But make no mistake about it, AD is the biggest X factor … whatever analogy or metaphor you want to use, he is that for us.”
James is 63 points away from breaking the NBA’s all-time scoring record.
“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general,” James said. “I think it’s up there with the home run record in baseball. It’s one of those records that you just don’t ever see or think that would be broken.”
Indiana’s All-Star, Tyrese Haliburton, returned to the court for the first time since Jan. 11 to score 26 for the Pacers, but he was quiet down the stretch as he was hounded by Beverley.
Haliburton had a chance to put the Pacers up inside of 10 seconds, but Davis blocked his shot at the rim. The Lakers failed to ice the game at free-throw line, Beverley missing two free throws, but they got one more stop to pick him up.
Haliburton was one for six from the field in the fourth quarter.
“I thought he was excellent tonight on both sides of the floor,” James said of Beverley. “I mean, he had a plus-16. He was very positive throughout the whole night and Haliburton is an All-Star for a reason. He’s been playing, beginning this year, at an extremely high level. And Pat’s just trying to make it tough on him.”
A week from the NBA’s trade deadline, the game against the Pacers was a reminder of a version of this season’s Lakers roster that never existed.
Before the season, the Lakers and the Pacers engaged in serious discussions about a potential Russell Westbrook trade that would’ve sent the former MVP and first-round picks to Indiana for center Myles Turner and guard Hield.
The sides couldn’t come to an agreement before training camp, talks cooling once the Pacers pushed toward playoff contention.
Four months later, the market for Westbrook has largely been unchanged, according to league sources from rival teams. The sense is any Westbrook trade probably would still require the Lakers to include a first-round pick to offset a team paying the rest of Westbrook’s $47 million salary.
Rival teams expect the Lakers, should they make a deal, to potentially use Beverley and Lonnie Walker IV as a way to build enough salary to get a meaningful return back.
The questions, though, will be whether the Lakers and their limited draft assets can bring in clear upgrades to the talent already on the roster in a trade.
Beverley’s defensive impact was a key reason for the win Thursday. And while Westbrook struggled to make shots, finishing two of 16, he had 10 assists and was a team-best plus-14 in the fourth quarter (including double-teaming Hield on the potential game-winner).
The Lakers, trade or not, should be adding talent any day now, with Ham saying Austin Reaves could return on the current trip, which ends Saturday in New Orleans.
Reaves, who has been part of closing lineups for the Lakers throughout the season, has been out since Jan. 6 because of a hamstring injury.
“We’re just playing,” Davis said of the looming deadline. “Every team has rumors surrounding it when it comes around to the trade deadline. So we’re just going out competing and whatever happens, happens. If it don’t, we’re in the same situation we’re in now. We feel like we’re getting into a groove.”
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