May 28, 2024

HOUSTON — The Los Angeles Lakers‘ nightmare of a road trip continued with another injury to a rotation player and another loss — this one in blowout fashion, 128-94 to the Houston Rockets — on Wednesday.

Eight games into the season, with L.A. 3-5 and 0-3 on its current four-game road trip to drop its record to 0-5 outside of the friendly confines of Arena, LeBron James admitted that he doesn’t know what to make of his team so far.

“I don’t have an assessment,” James said after scoring 18 points in 27 minutes, as coach Darvin Ham finally found a way to cut the star’s minutes by sitting him the entire fourth quarter with the game out of reach.

The end of L.A.’s bench in the fourth quarter — as the Rockets were putting the finishing touches on a game in which they outrebounded the Lakers 57-34, fueling a 24-3 advantage in second-chance points — said it all. Four players — Anthony Davis, who was a late scratch because of spasms in his left hip; Jaxson Hayes, who missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle; and Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (right knee), who both have yet to play this season — sat beside each other in street clothes.

“I mean, we can’t build cohesion if we don’t have our unit,” James said. “It’s that simple. It’s just, we’re very depleted on the injury side.”

The Lakers are hopeful that Davis will play in the road trip finale Friday in Phoenix, sources said, which doubles as L.A.’s first group-play game of the in-season tournament.

But the return of the star big man won’t fix everything. Through eight games, the Lakers have been outscored by 74 points in first quarters, which is the worst margin through eight games in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They also have been historically bad from the 3-point line: They’re the first club to make fewer 3 and shoot a worse percentage from 3 than their opponent in each of their first eight games.

“We’re juggling different circumstances — guys being in and out of the lineup,” Ham said. “But at the end of the day, no one is going to feel sorry for you, especially when you’re a Los Angeles Laker.”

The bind the Lakers find themselves in naturally prompted the question: What can be done to turn things around for a team that openly spoke about championship aspirations during training camp?

“I think we just need to relax and figure out where the root of where we’re going to start trending in the right direction,” Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell said. “And I think getting healthy first is one. Two, just playing for one another. I think that’s the first start: having that mentality we’re going to play for each other and just make things easier for each other.”

If there was a silver lining to Wednesday’s game, it was Rui Hachimura‘s return after missing four games because of the league’s concussion protocol. He scored 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting with 8 rebounds off the bench.

But even he had to acknowledge how his reinsertion into the lineup meant another adjustment period for his teammates.

“Every day, we have a different lineup, we play with different guys, new guys come in,” Hachimura said. “It’s almost like we have a trade every day, you know?”

Taurean Prince, who earned the starting forward spot vacated when Vanderbilt got hurt in the preseason, admitted as he looked around the visitors’ locker room at Toyota Center that he “forgot my Gabe [Vincent] wasn’t even here,” referring to yet another sidelined contributor who didn’t accompany the team on the trip to stay back in L.A. and rehabilitate his swollen left knee.

“So it’s like, just putting your mind around what could be or the pieces that we are missing — you don’t want to use that as an excuse but you use it as something you keep in the back of your mind where you just know certain things could be different given a certain situation,” Prince said. “But life don’t work that way.”

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