As the Indiana Pacers’ lead ballooned into the 40s in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, so too did the distance between Lebron James and his next closest teammate on the bench.
The Los Angeles Lakers ‘ eventual 136-94 dribbling at the hands of the Pacers ended up being the worst loss of James’ 16-year NBA career. And the optics of seeing the four-time MVP parked in the final spot on the sideline with three empty seats between him and Brando n Ingram might have been even worse, illustrating how far away this team seems from the contenders James is accustomed to being a part of.
The Lakers already beat Indiana this season — a 104-96 decision on Nov. 29 in L.A. — when the Pacers were missing Victor Oladipo. But with Oladipo now out for the season — and Indiana going just 1-4 since the All-Star guard’s injury and playing on the second night of a back-to-back — the Pacers got their revenge, and then some.
L.A. is now 7-13 in its past 20 games — playing 18 of those without Lebron James as he dealt with a left groin strain — free-falling from fourth place to 10th in the Western Conference standings since Christmas Day.
And with just two days left before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the team’s cohesion stands at an even more tenuous position than its 27-27 record.
Following a loss at the Golden State Warriors over the weekend — a game in which L.A. held a double-digit second-half lead before getting blown out — Lakers coach Luke Walton and veterans JaVale McGee and Michael Beasly got into a verbal sparring match in the locker room, according to sources.
But that turned out to be better than Tuesday’s performance, in which the Lakers didn’t show any fight, trailing by as many as 46 points and never holding a lead.
Meanwhile, the Lakers’ brass has been entrenched in serious trade talks with the new Orleans Pelicans surrounding their star center, Anthony Davis; and just about every player on the Lakers’ roster has heard his name attached to a potential deal for Davis.
“The only players whose play hasn’t been affected by the trade talks are Lebron James and Rajon Rondo,”
Walton tried to steer his team’s focus away from the speculation before the Pacers game, saying, “This is a big game for us. Our guys are locked in. They know that this is the only thing that matters right now is the game we’re getting ready to play.”
But the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse offered a loud reminder of what’s at stake this week, chanting “LeBron’s gonna trade you!” at various times when Ingram, McGee and Kyle Kuzma were shooting free throws.
“I heard it,” Ingram said. “I still made the free throws. I’ve been through and I’ve heard worse, way worse things in my life. But it is what it is.”
Even if the Lakers players blocked out the fans, James wondered aloud if they also are blocking out what gets to them through their phones.
“I know it has to be tough on a lot of our guys, especially our young guys,” James said. “Right now, they’ve just never been a part of it and they’re hearing it every single day — and I know that the worst thing that you can do right now is be on social media. And I know all young guys love social media. So, that definitely can’t help.”
On a night when James’ became the fifth player in league history to hit 32,000 career points on a dunk over Indiana’s Myles Turner — his 18 points bringing him less than 300 points away from Michael Jordan for No. 4 on the all-time scoring list — he also dealt with the lopsided defeat.
Before Tuesday, James’ worst defeats were two games in which his club lost by 35 points: Jan. 16, 2017, when the Cleveland Cavaliers fell 126-91 to the Warriors in Oakland, California; and Nov. 28, 2007, when the Cavaliers lost 109-74 at the Detroit Pistons.