The Los Angeles Lakers lost a near must-win game to the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. Not only did the loss drop them to No. 7 in the standings — putting them in play-in tournament territory — it also gave the Trail Blazers the tiebreaker over L.A.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel did all he could with what he had but simply couldn’t overcome the players they were missing.
The Lakers faced the Trail Blazers without all of their top three ball handlers in LeBron James, Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker. Despite that, they played a close game all the way to the end, mainly thanks to incredible performances by Anthony Davis and Alex Caruso. They will now have just five regular-season games left to get out of the play-in scenario.
Vogel spoke about the loss and their place in the standings, shifting his concern away from the play-in tournament. “We don’t worry about that, we’re just competing to win as many games as we can,” Vogel said of the standings. “Wherever we land, we’re confident. Obviously we want to finish in the top six, we still have five games to make up some ground if possible and we’re gonna continue to try to win as many games as we can.
“But we’re in an adjustment phase like we’ve been in all year. We don’t have either of our two primary quarterbacks and even Talen, so the odds were stacked against us in a situation like this. But very proud of how our guys competed and had an opportunity to pull off a very difficult win. So proud of that, compete like we did tonight against Phoenix then I feel confident we’re gonna win that game and that’ all we can control.”
In order for the Lakers to avoid the play-in tournament at this point, they would need to be two games better over their final five than the Trail Blazers. Because of these long odds, Vogel’s attitude of simply playing hard and not worrying about the standings is likely their best call.
If the Lakers can win enough games — and the Trail Blazers lose enough — to get back to No. 6, then it would be great for L.A. However, it’s no longer in the Lakers’ control whether or not that happens. All they can do is go out and play to win each and every remaining game.
Luckily, the Lakers’ final five games are relatively easy compared to the past week. After a game against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, they have two sets of back-to-backs. The first is against the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets and the second is against the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans. Three of their final five opponents are not in the top eight of their conference.
Vogel did not want to foul in final possession
The Lakers were down just three as the Trail Blazers took possession with about 34 seconds left in the game. Because of the 10-second difference between the shot clock and game clock, the best move would have been to just play good defense and hope for a miss to remain down three.
Instead, Ben McLemore and Caruso both went for a foul, putting the Lakers down five and the game out of reach. Vogel spoke about the decision after the loss.
“We just wanted to play it out, we didn’t want to take a foul there, but play it out and try to get a stop to give ourselves a chance to win it with the ball on the last possession.”
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