Lakers withstand late Clippers surge and end their four-game losing streak

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) drives to the basket.

The point, Darvin Ham said, was that this team needed to be viewed from an eagle-eyed perspective.

After the Lakers lost to Memphis on Friday, Ham spoke with a raised voice while chiding people for viewing things too micro.

“This is the NBA, man,” Ham said, raising his voice a notch. “This is a marathon, and you have to look at the totality of the picture. I’m tired of people living and dying with every single game we play. It’s ludicrous, actually. It’s like, ‘C’mon, man, this is a marathon.’ And we hit a tough stretch. It’s the same team.”

The comment didn’t sit well, not inside the Lakers’ building and not among their fans. And Sunday, before his team played the Clippers, he tried to explain.

Read more: Lakers vow to fight to the finish as losing streak reaches four games

“But [it’s] the totality of everything we’re doing in the short term and getting to a big picture, it’s a process,” he said. “And so, you’re going to have some valleys and you’re going to have some peaks.”

But how do the Lakers know if they’ve slid into a valley? What if they’ve run off a cliff?

“I don’t know …” Ham said with a laugh. "I guess the velocity in which I hit the ground."

In the fog of the season, just like the fog of a game, it’s hard to know exactly where you stand, the kind of lesson on display in the Lakers’ 106-103 win Sunday at Arena.

Lakers star LeBron James dunks in front of Clippers forward Paul George during the second half Sunday at Arena.

“We gotta continue to get better,” LeBron James said. “Try to use this to try to catapult a little bit better play from us. But it still doesn't take away from the fact of how we've been playing like the last 11, 12 games. Tonight was a good start. Hopefully we can start from here and continue to build.”

The Lakers received 25 points from James and 22 from Anthony Davis as they ended a four-game losing streak (and won their second in a row against the Clippers).

Early on, the Lakers looked badly outmanned in their first game against the Clippers' trio of Paul George, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. It was easy to contrast the Clippers' ease at taking the shots they wanted versus the Lakers' strains to score. The way the Clippers pushed the Lakers off their spots on both ends of the court was impossible to ignore.

It certainly seemed like a night that was over for the Lakers before it began.

But as the game wore on, the Lakers stuck around — thanks, in part, to some sloppy Clippers play and some missed open three-point tries — and their position began to look different.

By the time James rose up and dunked on Paul George, and D’Angelo Russell, fresh back from an injury, was splashing home transition threes, the gap between the two teams faded.

The Lakers’ defensive identity, which has waned as they've slogged through the last four weeks, returned, forcing the Clippers into a 39.6% shooting night from the field.

Lakers guard Max Christie, left, and Clippers center Daniel Theis battle for a rebound in the first half Sunday.

“Just came out with a sense of urgency. We played hard. We played like we needed to win, like it was a must-win,” Davis said. “Competed on both sides of the basketball. Just kind of build off of it. We know what we have in this locker room. We know what it takes to win and we displayed that tonight.”

The Clippers’ firepower, though, was undeniable.

Despite trailing by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Clippers quickly closed the gap. Norman Powell, who had struggled all game, hit two big threes and made three free throws after getting fouled on a third. Harden, mostly a nonfactor in his first city rivalry game, drilled two big threes, including one to keep the door open in the final 24 seconds.

After Austin Reaves split a pair of free throws with four seconds left to put the Lakers up three, Powell got a look down the baseline, but his potential tying shot at the buzzer rimmed out.

“It looked like it was good, for sure,” James said.

The Clippers got 22 points from George, 22 points and 19 rebounds from Ivica Zubac, but Harden and Leonard combined for only 30 points on a total of 30 shots.

In some ways, it was a template for how the Lakers need to play to win — a reminder they need to use defensive toughness. It was also, in some ways, a reminder of what they’re not. On a night when they made more than half of their shots, they scored only 106 points, with 19 turnovers hurting their efficiency.

But more than anything, and most importantly, it was a victory.

“It doesn't fix everything, obviously,” James said. “But it helps.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.