Lakers' furious fourth-quarter comeback falls short in 113-107 loss to Heat

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony, center, misses an attempted dunk .
Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony, center, misses an attempted dunk over Miami Heat guards Kyle Guy, left, and Max Strus during the first half of the Lakers' loss Sunday. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

As the deficit grew past 20 points and lived there, the words to describe what was happening on the floor were difficult to find.

It was bad, but it wasn’t new. The Lakers looked somewhere between their loss in Denver and their other defeats against strong competition. They were sort of lifeless, kind of like they were late against Indiana. And they looked lost and disconnected, symptoms of the lack of cohesion that’s haunted them since opening night.

But as the team surged in the fourth, nearly completing a 26-point comeback before losing 113-107, it became clearer what had just happened.

This was the Lakers — the team at its absolute Lakers-iest.

There were problems, effort concerns and intensity lags. That’s who this team was on Sunday against the Heat most of the time. But there was also a switch that got flipped, a group that found itself and fought, that nearly stole a win and showed just enough to remind everyone who they could be.

That version of the Lakers hasn’t been close to existing consistently. The Lakers were excellent in cutting Miami’s 26-point lead lead all the way down to four. Just like the Lakers were awful in allowing themselves to fall behind by 26.

Miami scored 39 points in the first quarter and 30 more in the second, leaving the Lakers totally confused on that side of the court while they only flashed proficiency on the other.

“We just had too many breakdowns and versus a team that’s this well coached, you can’t have multiple breakdowns throughout the course of a game, throughout the course of a possession, throughout the course of a first half or a quarter,” LeBron James said. “Because they’re going to make you pay. There’s a lot of teams in this league that, at times, won’t make you pay for mistakes. But they are not one of them and they made us pay every time.”

Lakers star LeBron James tries to pass the ball over Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker and guard Gabe Vincent.
Lakers star LeBron James, left, tries to pass the ball over Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker, center, and guard Gabe Vincent during the first half. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

That’s not to say the Lakers and James, who scored 33, didn’t have their moments.

In one stretch, James flew down the court in Miami the same way he used to when he won titles with the Heat – too big, too strong, too unstoppable.

He split defenders for a one-handed dunk, throwing the ball through the rim like it had just insulted him. And after a stop, he barreled through the Heat defense like a running back shedding tacklers before flipping the ball through the hoop for the score.

While the James’ loyalists in Miami roared, the Lakers’ superstar flexed his biceps and slapped his chest.

The celebration needed to be quick; the Lakers were still down 20.

“We stayed believing in each other,” Frank Vogel said — his Lakers not good enough to ignore this kind of positive.

Russell Westbrook played well for the second straight game since being benched by Vogel, scoring 24 to go with nine rebounds and nine assists.

But those negatives? They’re too glaring to ignore too. They’re the reason why players inside the Lakers own locker room can believe there’s still a legitimate shot to become the best team in the league while still knowing that things need to change fast to get there.

Asked why this keeps happening, all Bradley could do was laugh.

"I think a big part of it is it’s just our effort from night to night," he said.

When Westbrook was asked the same, all he could do was sort of verbally shrug.

“I don’t know,” he said.

The Lakers, at least, are hopeful that Anthony Davis will be back in the lineup soon — though his return won’t immediately cure all their ailments.

Davis was listed as “questionable” before Sunday’s game with the Heat because there was a chance he’d be able to play for the first time since spraining his knee, but the Lakers decided to be cautious.

Even when Davis returns, the Lakers seem to believe that Trevor Ariza will be a key part of their future. It’s why, Vogel said, the team is letting him play through his struggles — he was scoreless, missing all five of his shots. He also had four turnovers in less than 15 minutes.

“He’s going to come around,” Vogel said. “He had a tough night. He’s going to come around.”

And maybe, someday, the Lakers will too.

But just like Sunday, the longer they wait, the harder it’ll be for them to be anything but themselves — a team capable of anything other than consistency.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.