The Lakers hadn’t been in this position since Oct. 20, the last time their basketball team came within one win of matching their .500 record.
That was the second game of the regular season.
A lot has changed since then.
In that loss to the Clippers, Russell Westbrook missed all 11 of his shots, Patrick Beverley made just 1 of 7 shots and four of the five reserves who had minutes are no longer on the roster.
However, after the Lakers turned their roster upside down and with the energy inside the locker room completely turned around, one thing hasn’t changed.
The Lakers are still not at .500.
After winning three straight games, the Lakers missed a chance Sunday to move into a tie for sixth place in the West, losing to the New York Knicks 112-108.
D’Angelo Russell, whose massive fourth quarter shut out the Toronto Raptors on Friday, stayed hot Sunday going 13-of-19 shooting for a season-high 33 points, but was outdueled by former teammate Julius Randle.
Randle was 33 on 11 of 24 from the field while shooting 8 of 11 from the free throw line, his aggressiveness setting the tone for the Knicks, who were without point guard Jalen Brunson.
And in the fourth quarter, RJ Barrett’s repeated attempts at the basket gave the Lakers trouble, his layup with 2:34 remaining putting the Knicks up by 10 points. Barrett finished with 30 points.
The Lakers came back to make it a one-possession game in the final 20 seconds, but the team couldn’t get to a Knicks player to foul on their final possession, letting 14 seconds steal the clock.
Another former Laker, Josh Hart, made both free throws to freeze the game.
Anthony Davis scored just 17 points but grabbed 16 rebounds.
LeBron James returned to the Lakers’ bench after missing the last two games for medical reasons. He no longer wore the protective boot to walk on his injured right foot.
“Everything is going according to plan,” Ham said of James’ recovery.
Earlier this week, James posted a video from an unknown remote location, joking about paparazzi following him as a wild animal roamed.
“I’ve been through this with (Kobe Bryant) and Giannis (Antetokounmpo), these guys have a variety of shapes, when you’re at that level, you have a variety of ways that you can treat different injuries,” Ham said. “And it’s also nice that it disconnects a bit. Not necessarily detaching, but just calming down a bit mentally with everything that happened during the year. … It’s been a lot.
“So it’s not just about him being healthy, it’s about him being in a good place mentally and spiritually so that we get the best version of him when he comes back.”