At 28-29, the Lakers are 2.5 games back of the Sacramento Kings for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. For James, it is the latest into a season that his team has had a sub-.500 record since the Cleveland Cavaliers finished his rookie season 35-47 in 2003-04.
“This is a tough loss for us,” James said. “We didn’t have consistent play from all facets of the game. Offensively and defensively, we jacked up a lot of coverages to start the game. In the third quarter we jacked up a lot of our coverages again. It was always playing uphill, like we’ve been doing of late. We’ve got to be a lot better.”
L.A. allowed the Hawks, who are is now 19 games under .500, to score 65 points in the first half and trailed by as many as 10. Tuesday’s loss came after the Lakers allowed the Philadelphia 76ers to score 76 points in the first half in an eventual 143-120 loss Sunday.
Point guard Rajon Rondo also pointed to the Lakers’ defensive effort, saying they need to “collectively try to just find a way to get stops.”
“We’ve given up a lot of points the last however many games — eight to 10 games — and it’s just been a shootout, and we haven’t won many of the shootouts,” Rondo said. “So we’ve got to find a way to get a different dynamic as far as defensively to get stops.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton said he wants his team to use the break to reset themselves mentally and physically and make an earnest run at recapturing the season when they return.
“Coming back re-energized with the idea of, let’s try to do something special,” Walton said. “Let’s sacrifice, let’s go out and give for the team. … That’s why I asked the guys to get quiet for a little bit of time over the weekend. I know everybody has got family and events, but spend some time by yourself, and like I said, I think we have a group that will be ready to go when we get back.”
James will leave the country for a brief vacation, sources told ESPN, before heading to Charlotte to play in his 15th straight All-Star Game, captaining Team LeBron against Team Giannis.
“You got to decompress and get away from the game a little bit,” he said. “Those guys will have a lot more time than I will, obviously. I’ll be right back into it in two days. But just get fresh, get your minds right, get your bodies right. Come back with the notion that we’ll make the playoffs.”
Kyle Kuzma will participate in the MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars game Friday and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday. Lonzo Ball was also selected to play for Team U.S. in the Rising Stars game but is sidelined with a sprained ankle.
“We just gotta make the game fun,” Kuzma said. “We just got to remember why we started playing this game. Play for fun, not as a business and not get too much stress out on the court. I think the All-Star break is gonna be really good for us, especially getting a break with everybody, and get to recharge, and get back a new sense of focus.”
Tuesday was the Lakers’ third loss in the last 19 games against one of the league’s cellar dwellers, compounding defeats to the 12-45 Cleveland Cavaliers and 10-45 New York Knicks.
James was asked if his team brought the proper sense of urgency every night.
“Just a little sense of urgency every game, how important every game is, when guys have never played a playoff run before, so you can’t teach them that, but it’s very important to understand how important every game is, no matter who you’re playing and where you are,” he said.
James was then asked if some players had already mentally checked out with the break approaching.
“That’s a possibility,” he said.
All was not lost, however. James made the rounds in the locker room wishing teammates well before ducking out with a couple of bottles of wine in tow for his flight to some far-off destination.
“Time for us to get away and reflect a little bit about where we are as a group,” Walton said. “I think this first part of the season, we’ve gone through a lot of adversity as a group. And, you know, we’re probably not where we want to be, but we’re still close enough. So we got a challenge ahead of us coming back after All-Star, and we’ve got some work to do. But I think we have a group that’s up for that challenge, and we’ll look forward to attacking that when we get back after it.”
Rondo remained steadfast in his belief in his team.
“I’m not concerned at all,” he said.
And James’ final line of 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds to notch the 78th triple-double of his career, tying him with Wilt Chamberlain for the fifth most all-time, was quickly forgotten.
“At the end of the day we lost the ball game,” James said. “I don’t care what I did individually. I could care less when I’m not winning ball games. That’s what I’m all about, so I can throw that game in the trash.”