With LeBron James struggling, Lakers lean on depth and defense to defeat Warriors

Lakers forward LeBron James, center, shoots as Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney, right, defends during the first half of the Lakers’ 124-111 win Thursday at Arena. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LeBron James sent the message to the Lakers from Salt Lake City.

There will be no more time wasted, no more excuses and no more waiting.

Sunday, James said he was about to embark on 23 of the most important regular-season games of his career — a stretch that would determine whether the Lakers would make the playoffs or be out of it for the second year in a row.

Full-speed from here on out — and if this was the first step, it was a good start.

With James struggling and the Golden State Warriors’ defense locked in on Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ depth and defense was more than enough, the Lakers’ cruising to a 124-111 win out of the break.

“Overall, a great team win,” coach Darvin Ham said.

The Lakers led by as many as 28 — just the ninth time they’ve led by 20 in a game this season. More importantly, it’s the second game in row the Lakers have led by 20 — another dominant performance against a playoff contender after the team blew out New Orleans last week.

“We’re still figuring it out,” Davis said. “…But it looks really good. We’re playing well, clicking and we know we don’t have much time.”

The Lakers’ push comes while the team’s urgency is a stated high — a pack of playoff contenders all trying to surge with the Lakers at the rear.

Everyone in the West, save for Denver and Memphis at the top and Houston and San Antonio at the bottom, has no firm of idea of what the postseason future looks like. As of Thursday, six games separated the third-place Kings from the 13th-place Lakers.

“I think it’s a sprint to the finish line,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said pregame. “I know given LeBron’s career and everything he’s achieved that it might sound like hyperbole, but we all feel a sense of urgency at this point. We’re just a couple games ahead of them. We’re all in this precarious position where we could be in the play-in, we could sneak into the six [seed], we could fall out entirely.”

Thursday, the Lakers did without either of their stars dominating offensively, James shooting just five of 20 from the field for 13 points and Davis scoring just 12 on five shots.

It was James’ lowest scoring game since Nov. 11, 2021 — a game where he was ejected and the fewest shot attempts for Davis this season — minus the game in Cleveland where he left early with an illness.

Lakers guard Malik Beasley controls the ball on his way to scoring 25 points against the Warriors on Thursday night.

Lakers guard Malik Beasley controls the ball on his way to scoring 25 points against the Warriors on Thursday night. (Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s also the second-straight game where James played a season-low in minutes.

Malik Beasley scored 25 and five bench players scored at least 10 led by Austin Reaves — who went six for six from the field to score 17.

“It could be any guy,” Beasley said.

The Lakers entered the post-All-Star stretch of the season with a kind of stability that they hadn’t experienced in more than a season, their team with a clearly established starting five with identity, balance and minimal controversy.

“It’s good to see that,” James said at shootaround Thursday morning. “Right now we feel pretty good and guys are looking forward to getting out and see how much momentum we can develop with this lineup.”

It lasted nine minutes.

The Lakers’ rotten injury bug re-surfaced late in the first quarter, newly acquired point guard D’Angelo Russell spraining his right ankle maybe the least lucky way possible — while throwing an inbounds pass.

After a Warriors made basket, Russell took the ball and stepped back beyond the end line. He didn’t see Donte DiVincenzo standing behind him, and Russell stepped on his foot, rolling the right ankle.

The Lakers ruled him out, and Dennis Schroder started the second half. X-rays were negative and Russell will be reevaluated in the morning.

Russell said his ankle was a little sore but he was hopeful after some treatment that he’d feel better in the morning.

“Wrong place,” he said, “wrong time.”

The Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.

The win showcased the entirely new makeup of the Lakers roster following the team’s Russell Westbrook trade at the deadline — a move that swapped out one player for three new pieces in the starting lineup.

On Thursday, it was Beasley’s hot shooting — he quickly scored eight points before anyone really broke a sweat — that set the tone.

“Just a sniper, nonstop staying aggressive,” Ham said.

The team now heads out for three games starting Sunday in Dallas — the first of their final three trips of the season.

“Guys know what’s at hand,” Ham said. They know we don’t have any more time or games to waste.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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