LOS ANGELES — For players who have been around for a few years, the losses may feel different this year. In previous seasons, the Lakers were built to lose; a team designed around players who were meant to get them to the draft so they could be replaced.
This was far from an “all-in” season from the Lakers. Growth is expected to be painful. They won, however, five of their first 10 games. As recently as the week of Thanksgiving, they were just two games under .500.
Since then, however, the momentum has stalled. Against good teams and bad, home and away, by margins big and small, the Lakers keep on losing.
On Sunday it was a 118-95 defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets, who handed the Lakers their fifth straight defeat and improved to a league-best 18-4.
James Harden led all scorers with 36 points.
The 23-point margin was the worst of the season for the Lakers (8-15) who lost by 16 points on opening night against the Clippers and at Washington on Nov. 9.
One night after getting outscored 15-0 over the final four minutes in a loss at Denver, the Lakers lost steam early against the Rockets. The teams were tied at 27 after one quarter, but the Rockets broke the game wide open in the second period, outscoring the Lakers 34-19 behind 16 points from Harden.
Brandon Ingram scored 18 points to lead four Lakers starters in double figures, while Kyle Kuzma scored a team-high 22, though all but six of those came in the fourth quarter once the game was out of hand.
Kuzma, who also added 12 rebounds, provided the Lakers lone highlight of the game. With 8:56 left in the game, out of an inbounds play, Kuzma served up a windmill dunk over Rockets’ center Clint Capela.
A pulse could be briefly detected among the 18,997 fans at Staples Center.
In truth, however, the Lakers did not get their typical contribution from their stalwart bench. Through three quarters, the Lakers reserves were just 3 of 17 from the field. Julius Randle finished with as many fouls (five) as he did points and rebounds, while Jordan Clarkson was just 1 of 9 from the floor.
Then there was Lonzo Ball.
In the prized rookie’s first game against not one, but two, of the game’s best point guards, he barely registered a blip. Ball, who complained of calf tightness in both legs on Saturday in Denver, scored just two points to go with three assists and a rebound while missing all four of his shots from the floor.
Ball played just 22 minutes and did not see the court in the fourth quarter.