Lakers blow 15-point lead to fall late to Pacers

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Lakers forward LeBron James leaps on the baseline to pass abasing Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis.
Lakers forward LeBron James leaps on the baseline to pass against Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis in the first half at Crypto.com Arena on Wednesday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Fifteen months ago, the Lakers won the NBA championship and Frank Vogel was lauded for being the steward who guided the franchise to its 17th title that tied it with the Boston Celtics for the most in league history.

Some two hours before the Lakers were set to play the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena, Vogel sat behind a desk answering questions about his job status.

His position as coach of the Lakers seemingly had become a cloudy situation, with reports that his job was in peril because of his team’s poor play and its place in the standings.

On nights like Wednesday, when the Lakers blow a 15-point lead and drop a 111-104 game to a 16-29 Indiana Pacers team, that’s when the talk about Vogel’s job being in jeopardy becomes louder.

“Listen, I’m not in that business of pointing fingers, or pointing blame or trying to put a quote at the end or at the start of somebody’s, of someone’s commentator of what they feel of our coaching staff or Frank or where Russ [Westbrook] is, or where I’m at or AD [Anthony Davis],” LeBron James said about Vogel’s job situation. “If it’s not positive for me, I’m cool. That’s not my lane. I’m not a negative person.

“So, if you got something to ask me beside trying to s— on somebody, I’ll answer those. Which ya’ll probably don’t. Seem like ya’ll in s—y mode right now.”

James was asked how the team has been prepared by the coaching staff and how it has affected this recent stretch in which the Lakers have lost four of their last five games.

“The coaching staff has been great,” James said. “They put us in position to succeed and it’s up to us to go out and handle the business. So, there’s always things we all can do better.”

James, who scored a team-high 30 points, tried to do his part with a double-double that included 12 rebounds, making him the 42nd player in NBA history with at least 10,000 rebounds.

The loss that dropped the Lakers to 22-23 was even more disconcerting because Westbrook and Trevor Ariza started walking toward the locker room with 8.3 seconds left in the game.

Westbrook had been pulled out of the game with 3 minutes 52 seconds left and never returned. He had another horrible night shooting, going five for 17 from the field for 14 points. His plus-minus rating was a minus-18.

Westbrook left the arena without speaking to reporters after the game.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel drops his mask to yell plays to his team.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel drops his mask to yell plays to his team against the Indiana Pacers at Crypto.com arena on Wednesdday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

"Have you followed Russ throughout his career?” James asked a reporter who posed a question about Westbrook being frustrated for not being in the game. “Have you followed Russ throughout this season? Do you think that would bother Russ not being in a late game?”

Even with Vogel back at work Wednesday night and ready to lead the Lakers against the Pacers, his team didn’t follow suit.

“I hate losing,” James said. “So, yeah, of course there is going to be a level of frustration, for sure. I feel like we have a good enough team to win ball games and be over .500. I mean, we are who we are. I can’t even sit here and say like we should be this, we should be that.

“Our record is [what] we are, and we are a sub-.500 team as it stands today, and we got to play better.”

The Lakers fell apart on defense in the fourth quarter, giving up 35 points.

They didn’t come close to slowing down Caris Levert, who had 30 points on 12-for-16 shooting, including three for four on three-pointers.

“I think the easiest thing to do is to blame Frank, is to blame the coaches. But we’re out there,” said Carmelo Anthony, who returned to the lineup after sitting out three games because of a back issue.

“We’re out there playing. We’re the ones that gotta go out there and do it. We can’t just keep putting it on — or putting it on Frank. I don’t want to say ‘keep.’ I know how words are powerful. Disregard ‘keep.’

“I know how hard it is to do what we gotta do to put us in situations where we can win the game and us going out there being able to execute whatever the game plan is.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.