NBA Basketball

LeBron, Lakers face crucial game against Clippers

The Los Angeles Lakers were expected to make a playoff push when LeBron James returned from injury a month ago, but they're still heading in the wrong direction.

The Lakers are 4-7 in games James has played since returned from a 17-game absence because of a groin injury, and they have lost four of five heading into a pivotal matchup Monday night against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.

The Lakers are 4 1/2 games behind the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs and five games back of the Clippers in the Western Conference. The Lakers have 19 games left, the Spurs 18 and the Clippers 17.

"It's just unfortunate, with the opportunity that we've had, we haven't been able to seize that opportunity," James said after a particularly frustrating loss Saturday night at the Phoenix Suns, the only NBA team that's been mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

The Lakers have made a habit of falling into early holes and then trying to claw out in the fourth quarter. They have won 10 games this season in which they trailed by 10 or more points.

Los Angeles trailed the Suns by 19 points in the fourth quarter on Saturday before cutting the deficit to five with just under four minutes left. James missed two free throws that would have pulled the Lakers within three with 47.4 seconds left and the Suns held on for a 118-109 victory, just their second win since mid-January.

"I am happy with the fight we showed in the fourth quarter, but with where we're at in the season that's the desperation we need to start the game with," said Lakers coach Luke Walton.

James said he doesn't bother looking at the standings, mainly because they're so fluid from day to day.

"You've just to go out and do your job and try to do it at a high level for 48 minutes," he said. "And then see what happens at the end of that."

The Clippers were active at the Feb. 7 trade deadline and are 6-3 since retooling their lineup.

Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet, who will each turn 22 this month, are two of the players the Clippers acquired last month. Also in the starting lineup is 20-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, giving the Clippers one of the youngest starting fives in the NBA.

Shamet broke the team's rookie record with seven 3-pointers in a 128-107 win against the visiting New York Knicks on Sunday. He set the record in the first half, when he shot 7-for-10 from beyond the arc, the most 3s made by an NBA rookie in a half since 2002-03.

Shamet helped the Clippers score 82 points in the opening two quarters, the most by the franchise since April 14, 1984.

The Clippers are in a stretch of eight straight games inside Staples Center, with Sunday's game the only one as visitor.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Fox Sports Prime Ticket before the win against New York that now is not the time to get comfortable.

"Just because you're at home, you still play tough teams," Rivers said. "The bottom line for us, we have to win games. ... We have not played great at home, so let's turn that around."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 4, 2019

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