June 16, 2024

LeBron James sat at the end of the Lakers’ bench with a hoodie covering his head, pain in his left ankle not allowing him to play against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, just the fourth game he has missed this season.

It meant the struggling Lakers had to push forward against a surging Jazz team that was riding a four-game winning streak and had won eight of its last 10 games.

It also meant the player starting in place of James, D’Angelo Russell, had to fill a big void. Russell had been removed 10 games ago, no longer in a revamped starting lineup Lakers coach Darvin Ham hoped would get his team moving in the right direction.

Russell started strong, scoring 12 points in the first quarter, going two for four on three-pointers. He capped the Lakers’ highest scoring first quarter of the season with a three-pointer at the buzzer, giving them a 39-31 lead.

Russell finished with 39 points and eight assists, but that still didn’t stop the Lakers from losing, 132-125 to the Jazz. Russell was six for 11 from three-point range.

Even with Anthony Davis posting the second triple-double of his career with 15 points, a career-high 11 assists and 15 rebounds, the Lakers still lost for the 12th time in 17 games. Davis also had four blocked shots but missed 16 of the 21 shots he took.

Rui Hachimura, who had sat out the last five games because of a strained left calf, returned to the court. Apparently, the procedure he had to repair a nasal fracture had healed enough during the time he was out because Hachimura didn’t wear a protective mask against the Jazz.

By halftime, however, the Lakers lost another player when Cam Reddish was unable to play in the second half because of left knee soreness. Max Christie started in place of Reddish.

Even before the Lakers dropped to 19-21, Ham admitted he keeps an eye on the standings — the Lakers have fallen to 11th in the Western Conference.

“Oh, yeah, definitely, you always stay aware. I mean, you’re always aware,” Ham said. “But it doesn’t matter if you’re not taking care of your own business. So that takes priority: us getting healthy, us getting balanced. It seems, again, the injuries, the minor injuries, guys missing two or three games here and there, it’s really made it kind of difficult. But we’re up to the challenge to figure this thing out.

“But, yeah, just obviously you’re aware of who’s trending where all around you from the top to the bottom. But again, you have to, first and foremost, take care of your own business.”

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