February 24, 2024

Darvin Ham got his chance early Friday night to make a statement. Two hours later, it was the Lakers’ turn.

Facing what could be called a midseason crisis, the Lakers needed to approach Friday with the kind of attention and force the moment demanded, a chance to end a losing streak before hosting the red-hot Clippers on Sunday.

But instead of failing to meet the moment with effort, the Lakers, in some ways just as they did against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, failed to meet the moment with competency, replacing turnovers and bricks for slow closeouts on shooters and panicked late-game offense.

Despite trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, the Memphis Grizzlies shot their way past the Lakers in the fourth quarter of a 127-113 victory, outscoring L.A. by 14 in the final period.

“We just suck right now,” LeBron James said.

As Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart swished home dagger three-pointers, boos and murmurs replaced the early energy the Lakers helped ignite.

James hit his first four threes in the first quarter, skipping his way across the court to celebrate. Anthony Davis roared and muscled his way to 31 points. And Austin Reaves had 19 points and a career-best 12 assists.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham watches as LeBron James skips across the court after hitting a three-pointer against Memphis.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, right, watches as LeBron James skips across the court after hitting a three-pointer in the first quarter against Memphis on Friday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

But as the Lakers’ offense stalled — one of the worst in the league will do that from time to time — Memphis got hot and stayed hot. The Grizzlies made 23 threes — the most given up by the Lakers this season.

“We’ve got to do better as players to affect them to miss shots,” Reaves said. “… We have to take it upon ourselves to do better.”

Entering the game, Memphis was the worst shooting team in the NBA. The Grizzlies shot 51.1% from the field Friday as the Lakers went under screens and trudged into closeouts.

The Lakers’ timidity late didn’t match Ham’s defiance early.

“They shot the hell out of the ball,” Ham said of the Grizzlies.

Before the game, amid external scrutiny about his job performance, the Lakers’ coach said he felt affirmed about his standing with the organization.

“It comes with the territory. I’m solid,” Ham said. “My governor, Jeanie Buss, the boss lady; our president, Robert Pelinka — we’re all aligned. As long as they’re not saying it, I guess I’m good. Which I know how they feel about me and the situation we’re currently in. So, we’re all on the same page. My two captains, I communicate with them. Our communication has been at a high level.”

Lakers forward Christian Wood is fouled by Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr. in the second half Friday.

Lakers forward Christian Wood is fouled by Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr. in the second half Friday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A report in The Athletic said there was “a deepening disconnect” between Ham and the locker room while citing six unnamed sources.

“It’s just, the one thing that’s crazy is that it reminds me of when I used to watch ’60 Minutes’ with my father in the ‘80s,” Ham said. “And one particular show they were talking about La Cosa Nostra and the mafia and these guys were starting to go to trial and their star witness shows up with a black potato sack over his head and shades. And due to fear, the name can’t really be released.

“And so this seems to be the standard of reporting now for NBA,” Ham continued. “People on the internet and whatever. And not all reporters — I don’t want to disrespect anybody in the room — but when you say the source is anonymous by choice and they don’t want to put their name on something, but they want to give you the information and then you take the information and now everybody gets a chance to dissect it and spread it all out in their own way, it’s kind of disingenuous. And I wish we would get to a place where people are firm enough to stand on what they’re saying and then maybe we can have real dialogue and get to it.”

Ham did say he has evaluated his coaching performance during the Lakers’ recent swoon.

“You know, for me, it’s the film and really being efficient with that, being efficient with when we’re able to step on the floor and really pinpointing the things that we need to work on, just being sharper,” Ham said. “And I’ve always invited feedback and participation from my staff members, really hearing their voices, along with mine. Obviously, I have to make the final decision on things from a coaching standpoint, but really, everyone’s seen. Just taking in what everyone is seeing.”

After the game, Ham’s voice was loudest and sternest when chiding people who, in his opinion, are missing the big picture.

“This is the NBA, man. This is a marathon, and you have to look at the totality of the picture,” he said. “I’m tired of people living and dying with every single game we play. It’s ludicrous, actually. It’s like, ‘C’mon man, this is a marathon.’ And we hit a tough stretch.”

There will be more for the Lakers to examine, with their defense struggling and their offense remaining a nightly mystery as they lose ground in the Western Conference.

The Lakers were still without Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell on Friday, and their returns would certainly be welcomed.

But until the Lakers break through and start winning — something they’ve done only three times since Dec. 9 — the pressure won’t fade.

“We gotta stay together,” Davis said. “Obviously, it’s been a tough stretch for us. We still have a lot of basketball left. But we’re trending in the wrong direction right now. And the last thing we need, especially when guys are out, is to separate and fall apart.

“So we gotta stay together, for sure, and figure it out. We can’t be in our feelings. We can’t be complaining or whatever. We can’t take anything personal. We have to look individually, myself, everyone in the locker room, the coaching staff, look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we can do individually better to help the team be better. And I think then we can come out and flip things around.”

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