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A real sign of LeBron James’ decline? 3 takeaways from Lakers’ loss to Pacers

LeBron James has struggled to come up big for the Lakers in ‘clutch’ time. Here’s how the Indiana Pacers took advantage of that to mount a comeback.

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Los Angeles, CA - November 28: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) drives to the basket.

Lakers star LeBron James, left, drives around Indiana Pacers guard Buddy Hield during the first half of the Lakers’ 116-115 loss at Crypto.com Arena on Monday night. James said “everything went wrong” for the Lakers in the Pacers’ comeback win. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Everything that is wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers unfolded in the final 10 minutes Monday of a one-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, the massive issues the team needs to resolve all coming together against a team many considered would be playing for the No. 1 pick.

“Everything has to go wrong in order for you to lose a game like that, and everything went wrong,” LeBron James said after the Lakers got beat 116-115.

Here are the three biggest things that failed them — all three things that should have the Lakers concerned moving forward even despite a recent run of better basketball.

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LeBron James struggling in ‘clutch’ time

LeBron James passes the ball for the Lakers.

Lakers star LeBron James passes the ball in front of Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner in the first half Monday. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Over the course of his career, LeBron James has shown how dominant he can be for a team when the ball is in hands.

But in the fourth quarter Monday, James couldn’t get to his spots, couldn’t hit the angular fallaways that have helped him score more than anyone not named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was just 2 for 6, the game slowing in his hands, his empty possessions helping fuel the Pacers’ fastbreaks and furious comeback.

According to NBA.com, James is shooting only 6-for-16 in “clutch” time — situations defined by teams playing within five points in the final five minutes of play.

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“Those are looks he normally makes so the ball just didn’t happen to go in tonight,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I’m totally comfortable with him shooting those shots.”

History says he’s right, but this year, the dip in James’ shooting efficiency could be a real sign of decline. And if that happens in any kind of rapid way, the Lakers’ problems might be too big to fix.

Lakers roster issues

Darvin Ham frantically calls to his players.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham instructs his players during the final seconds of Monday’s loss. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As the Lakers struggled to get stops in the fourth as the Pacers dissolved their 17-point lead over 10 minutes, some problems reemerged.

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The Lakers, especially in the final two minutes, couldn’t snuff out possessions as the Pacers dominated the boards, leading to second chances. And while Anthony Davis pointed to effort as a key part of working the glass, the Lakers’ closing lineup consisted of Austin Reaves, Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder — not exactly a lot of size. The two players the team counts on for wing minutes, Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. were ineffective enough that the Lakers stayed small, even with Schroder finishing a team-worst minus-16 as Tyrese Haliburton tortured the Lakers defense.

Patrick Beverley, who was serving the last of a three-game suspension for shoving Deandre Ayton, would’ve certainly helped on rebounds, but the Lakers’ lack of size and depth on the wings certainly was a bigger factor.

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It’s part of the logic behind trading Westbrook — getting back two usable players (or more) for one, helping to rebalance the roster.

As the team struggled on both ends of the floor, the Lakers weren’t flush with options.

Anthony Davis not effective in fourth quarter

Anthony Davis dunks for the Lakers.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis dunks over Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, left, and guard Tyrese Halliburton on Monday. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers are playing through Davis less late in games (he only had two shots in the fourth quarter) — a problem anticipated before James returned from injury. If the Lakers’ pathway to winning games is through Davis dominating, getting him the ball and getting him to the foul line must be priorities.

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As the Lakers pushed late in the first half, Davis repeatedly got the free-throw line. His only two free-throw attempts in the fourth came off of a loose-ball foul.

“You get a lead like that, the free-throw line allows you to maintain your lead and I wish we would have been a lot more aggressive, continued playing with pace,” Ham said of the Lakers’ late offense. “And also continue to be organized and move the ball. That falls on me. That falls on me. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Upping Davis’ fourth-quarter production in close games has to be a priority, and while the Lakers have said that it is, they need to show it.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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