Lakers brush off LeBron James trade rumors and beat Utah

Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler, left, defends against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

LeBron James wasn’t with the Lakers as they played their final game prior to the All-Star break.

In an alternate universe, maybe he’d be with the Golden State Warriors.

In this one? It just meant the Lakers and James were able to steal an extra day before the break.

Early Wednesday morning before the Lakers’ 138-122 win against the Utah Jazz, a story published by ESPN detailed attempts by the Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers to trigger trade discussions with the Lakers about James ahead of the deadline last week.

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Sources not authorized to speak publicly confirmed the calls, which were strongly rebuffed.

The discussions about James’ availability came with his cryptic hourglass emoji post as the backdrop and his lack of patience around the deadline becoming a bit of an annual tradition with the Lakers.

That rival teams even felt there was a shot at acquiring James speaks to the unease around the Lakers following recent losses to Houston and Atlanta. His player option this summer, plus the potential for his son Bronny James to enter the draft, are looming factors that could create offseason drama.

Coach Darvin Ham said the Lakers’ focus remains internal.

“We said it early, we said it often, we’ve been derailed at certain segments through injuries with our consistency, but at the end of the day, maybe people [did not] believe it at the trade deadline, but we believe in what we have in our locker room wholeheartedly,” Ham said.

“And we feel like what we have in our locker room believes in us and the process of us trying to turn this thing and catch some rhythm in a positive manner. And that’s what you’ve seen over the last six games. So, all of that fantasy basketball — coulda, woulda, shoulda stuff — it’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to coach the hell out of these guys that have a Laker uniform on.”

The Lakers' win in Boston following James’ emoji post came without him or Anthony Davis, and it shook the team out of its two-game funk at a critical moment before the trade deadline.

“We're doing a lot of things well,” D’Angelo Russell said. “The scary part is we can be better at a lot of things too.”

Wednesday’s win without James came at another important juncture, the Lakers capping a seven-game stretch since James’ post by going 6-1 and playing with immaculate vibes.

Unlike the win in Boston, the Lakers very much had Davis in Utah, with the All-Star keying a 12-0 run to put the game out of reach at the end of the third quarter.

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He scored a team-high 37 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, his 12th double-double in his last 15 games.

“My first priority is to score the basketball. And the rest is second, third, fourth, fifth,” Davis said. “But like tonight, it's obviously easier when everybody has it going.”

Rui Hachimura, who has helped ignite the Lakers’ offense since moving into the starting lineup, scored a career-best 36 points. Austin Reaves added 22 and D’Angelo Russell scored 11 while dishing out a career-high 17 assists to go with nine rebounds.

“When I get into the game, I want to impact the game.” Hachimura said. “That's always my goal. I want to win the game, but I want to be the X-factor for the team, either coming off the bench or starting, whatever that is, offensively, defensively, everything. Just got to be aggressive, use my size, whatever it takes to win."

The Lakers (29-25) are four games over .500 for the first time since Dec. 15. They were two games under .500 the last time they were in Utah, when they lost one month ago.

Since then, the Lakers have remade themselves as a ball-sharing, fast-paced team with Davis anchoring the defense.

“[It’s] not what we can be,” Davis said, “but it's who we are.”

Wednesday threatened that identity. The Lakers arrived at their hotel in Salt Lake City around 4 a.m. after beating Detroit on Tuesday night. James already was ruled out. Players had firm plans for the All-Star break and the Jazz, hungry for a win, began to push against the Lakers.

But there wasn’t any real give. The Lakers shot 57% from the field, 45% on threes and 83% at the line. They had 34 assists and nine turnovers.

“It's tough to come in here and get a win like that, obviously, without Bron. Big part of what we do,” Reaves said. “But I thought we stayed the course really well. We didn't press it at any time. We just played the game the right way.”

In an alternate reality, maybe one from mid-December, the Lakers would’ve folded at the strongest signs of trouble.

But in the one they’re living now, one that’s been harmonious since the trade deadline, things are looking pretty good.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.