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With LeBron James struggling, Lakers lean on depth and defense to defeat Warriors

LeBron James sent the message from Salt Lake City to the Lakers.

There will be no more wasted time, no more excuses, and no more waiting.

On Sunday, James said he was about to start 23 of the most important regular season games of his career — a stretch that would determine whether the Lakers make the playoffs or be out for the second straight year.

From now on at full speed – and if this was the first step, it was a good start.

With James struggling and the Golden State Warriors defense locked in Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ depth and defense was more than enough, the Lakers cruised to a won 124-111 from the break.

“All in all a great team win,” said coach Darvin Ham.

The Lakers led by a whopping 28 – just the ninth time they have led a game by 20 this season. More importantly, it’s the second straight game the Lakers have led by 20 — another dominant performance against a playoff contender after the team blew out New Orleans last week.

“We’re still figuring it out,” Davis said. “…But it looks really good. We play well, it clicks and we know we don’t have much time.”

The Lakers’ push comes as the team’s urgency is high — a group of playoff contenders all trying to rise with the Lakers in the rear.

Everyone in the West, except for Denver and Memphis at the top and Houston and San Antonio at the bottom, has no idea what the future of the postseason looks like. As of Thursday, six games separated the third-ranked Kings from the 13th-ranked Lakers.

“I think it’s a sprint to the finish line,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr ahead of the game. “I know that given LeBron’s career and all he’s accomplished, it might sound like an exaggeration, but we all feel a sense of urgency right now. We’re just a few games ahead of them. We’re all in this precarious position where we could be in the play-in, we could sneak into the six (seed), we could fall out completely.

On Thursday, the Lakers went on without any of their stars dominating offensively, James shooting just five of 20 from the field for 13 points and Davis scoring just 12 on five shots.

It was James’ lowest-scoring game since November 11, 2021 — a game in which he was ejected and the fewest shot attempts for Davis this season — minus the game in Cleveland, where he left early with an illness.

Lakers guard Malik Beasley controls the ball en route to scoring 25 points against the Warriors on Thursday night.

(Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

It is also the second game in a row where James played an off-season within minutes.

Malik Beasley scored 25 and five bench players scored at least 10 led by Austin Reaves – who went off six for six to score 17.

“It could be any man,” Beasley said.

The Lakers entered the post-All-Star portion of the season with a kind of stability they hadn’t experienced in more than a season, their team having a well-established base five with identity, balance and minimal controversy.

“It’s good to see that,” James said during the Thursday morning shooting. “Right now we’re feeling pretty good and guys are looking forward to getting out there and seeing how much momentum we can develop with this lineup.”

It took nine minutes.

The Lakers’ rotten injury bug resurfaced late in the first quarter, newly hired point guard D’Angelo Russell spraining his right ankle, perhaps the least fortunate way possible – while throwing an inbound pass.

After a Warriors-made basket was made, Russell took the ball and stepped back behind the backline. He didn’t see Donte DiVincenzo standing behind him, and Russell stepped on his foot, causing his right ankle to roll.

The Lakers shut him out and Dennis Schroder started the second half. X-rays were negative and Russell will be reassessed tomorrow morning.

Russell said his ankle was a little sore, but he hoped he would feel better tomorrow after treatment.

“Wrong place,” he said, “wrong time.”

The Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.

The win showcased the all-new composition of the Lakers roster following the team’s deadline-delay Russell Westbrook trade — a move that traded one player for three new pieces in the starting lineup.

On Thursday, it was Beasley’s hot shooting – he quickly scored eight points before anyone really broke a sweat – that set the tone.

“Just a sniper that stays aggressive non-stop,” Ham said.

The team now heads into three games starting Sunday in Dallas – the first of their final three trips of the season.

“Guys know what’s coming,” Ham said. They know we have no more time or games to lose.”