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Lakers’ turnaround bookended by two dramatically different losses

INDIANAPOLIS — Asked to look back at the team that arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last February and imploded with a 42-point loss, Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan was diplomatic.

LeBron [James] had some injuries and a lot was going on with the Lakers last year,” McMillan said before the Lakers played the Pacers on Tuesday.

Last season’s punishing from the Pacers, which came just days before the trade deadline, was the worst loss of James’ career in terms of final margin. The cutting, “LeBron’s gonna trade you!” chants directed at L.A.’s young core marked a low point in the Lakers’ season. The indelible image from the night was James sitting on the end of the bench late in the game with three empty seats between him and the next closest teammate.

The defeat dropped L.A. to 27-27 at the time. They’d close out the season going just 10-18 from then on.

On paper, the Lakers’ lineup in Tuesday’s 105-102 loss looked less talented than the group that preceded them last year. Moreover, Anthony Davis rested a mild right ankle sprain and Kyle Kuzma remained on the sidelines as he recovers from an ankle injury of his own. Add those variables up, and a lopsided loss to a Pacers team boasting an 11-3 home record meant a lopsided loss could have been in the cards.

With a chance to tie the game on their final offensive possession coming out of a timeout, the play broke down to find James coming off a pindown screen from Dwight Howard, leaving Rajon Rondo to launch a 3-pointer that rimmed out.

“We just didn’t execute it,” James said of the play. “We didn’t execute the play to a T.”

Tuesday’s loss snapped a 14-game road winning streak for L.A., the third-longest in NBA history. Though the result was one they’re unaccustomed to, they maintained consistency despite being undermanned.

“Throughout the winning streak we was able to keep our composure throughout adversity,” James said. “Up or down, still being able to make a game out of it.”

That, of course, wasn’t the case last season. The team was full of pieces on different timelines with little shared vision, and it became increasingly clear that the franchise intended to upgrade its roster by using its prospects as trade chips.

But these Lakers have already proven the past to be moot this season. Davis returned to New Orleans to post the most points ever for a player in his return game. Howard and coach Frank Vogel went back to Orlando — a place they both experienced unceremonious exits — and got a win.

McMillan noted that James and Vogel, once rivals in the Eastern Conference finals, are now working together, striving for new success.

“Here they are working together, trying to win a championship,” McMillan said. “So when you get a situation like that, you can forget about the past and enjoy the present.”

The Lakers will look to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time this season when they play Milwaukee on Thursday, facing a Bucks team that ties L.A.’s league-best record at 24-4.

“We’re going to go out there and play hard and try to not do what we say we’re not trying to do this year,” Rondo said.

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