First LeBron vs. Victor Wembanyama matchup ends in Lakers loss

4 min read

The Lakers’ banner for the NBA in-season tournament will be a permanent reminder of what they accomplished last weekend in Las Vegas.

As far as what happened Friday in San Antonio, the Lakers hope that’s a more temporary commemoration.

The bill for the energy the Lakers expended in the in-season tournament came due, the physical and mental costs on full display in a 129-115 loss to the Spurs.

Anthony Davis didn’t play because of a combination of problems — the nagging hip issues and a recently rolled ankle among them. D’Angelo Russell sat out his first game of the season because of illness and Cam Reddish, who has been beaten up as the Lakers’ primary perimeter defender, sat because of right knee soreness.

“Through it all, we just got to get healthy,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We’ve got a big week coming up and tomorrow we’ll be further updated. Guys will get treatment and hopefully come back ready to work on Sunday and start this big week out with New York on Monday.”

Privately, even some available Lakers admitted to dealing with fatigue, an effect of the brutal schedule that has had the Lakers mostly living out of a suitcase since Thanksgiving. Including two games in Las Vegas, the Lakers have played nine of their last 11 games on the road.

And after they host the Knicks on Monday, during which they will celebrate their in-season tournament championship, the Lakers play three more road games.

Lakers star LeBron James shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson during the first half.

(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

After falling behind by as many as 25 to the Spurs, LeBron James led a comeback in the second quarter, scoring 12 points and dishing out nine assists — tied for the most assists in a quarter during James’ career.

During that stretch, he had the Lakers’ biggest highlight play, a high-arcing step-back corner three-pointer over Victor Wembanyama.

“Just trying to get his hands to go down just a little bit, because I know his wingspan and I know he is able to block shots outside his comfort,” James said. “So, just tried to create a little bit more room, shoot it a little bit higher and I was able to knock it down.”

But the Lakers could never sustain that necessary energy, the Spurs ending a franchise-record 18-game losing streak with Wembanyama embracing his teammates on the sideline in the final minutes.

James scored 23 points to go with 14 assists, Austin Reaves had 22, Rui Hachimura had 20 and Christian Wood scored 17 in the loss.

Devin Vassell led the Spurs with 36 points, the Lakers’ defense failing to slow the Spurs, giving up 42 points in the first quarter after giving up 45 points in the fourth Wednesday in San Antonio.

Reaves, one of the Lakers playing through illness, moved back into the starting lineup for the first time since heading to the bench to play a Manu Ginobili-like role. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted Reaves’ ability to handle the switch the way Ginobili did years earlier.

“All you can say is guys like Austin and Manu, it’s about their character,” Popovich said before the game. “Everybody won’t go for that. So it’s to their credit to understand what’s best for the whole group and have that kind of selflessness.

“And it became obvious to Manu that we’d be a much better team if he was coming off the bench, he didn’t love it in the beginning. Probably to this day, he’ll tell you he didn’t love it totally. Because he’s a competitor, he wants to start, which is a typical human reaction. But he did the right thing because of his character.”

Reaves needed treatment postgame after leaving the court late because of cramping, another reminder of the Lakers paying a toll for their latest stretch.

“It’s tough. It’s definitely a grind,” James said. “I feel like we’ve been on the road pretty much all year. So, but like I said, health is wealth. It’s challenging going home for a couple days, just then head right back East, go back to the Midwest. … So that’s going to be challenging on us. We got to mentally and physically prepare ourselves.

“We got to take care of our bodies. We got to get our sleep. We got to get our nutrition. We got to hydrate. We got to, whatever we got to do to refuel because the games are going to continue to come.”

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