LeBron James, Darvin Ham blast refs after frustrating loss vs. Suns hurts Lakers playoff chances

“We’re not shooting 40, 50 threes a game,” said LeBron. “We’re not that team. We don’t have the luxury of being that team.”

The Los Angeles Lakers’ offensive identity is predicated on pounding the paint and getting to the free-throw line.

During and after Sunday’s 123-113 loss to the Phoenix Suns,

LeBron James and Darvin Ham’s group was visibly frustrated by their inability to garner whistles.

darvin ham lakers lebron james devin booker suns

The Lakers entered Sunday averaging 24.7 free throw attempts per game. They rank second in average paint points (55.9). Against Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and the Suns, the Lakers shot a season-low eight freebies (missing four), while Phoenix converted 18-of-19 from the charity stripe (total fouls: Lakers 14, Suns 12).

“I’m not one to use referees as an excuse, but it’s becoming increasingly tough because of the inconsistency,” said Ham. “I’m seeing our guys get the same contact on them as we’re supposedly committing and the whistle’s not being blown. And that’s something we focus on, is trying to win the free throw line every day. That’s tough. I’m telling my guys to drive downhill. We’re trying to love and live in the paint. And you’re not getting calls. I see guys with their hands in our guys’ ribs, or swiping at their heads trying to block the shot but not getting the ball but getting a piece of the body, and it’s not being called. Simple as that. So we have to figure out ways to not let that be a problem. But it’s tough. It’s frustrating when there’s so much inconsistency.”

LeBron, who posted 28 points despite going 1-of-4 from the line, forlornly replied “yeah, for sure” when asked if the Lakers were victimized by the whistle in Phoenix. LeBron used the postgame platform to highlight his team’s lack of lasers — and corresponding reliance on physicality.

“That’s who we are,” said LeBron. “But a lot of people, a lot of coaches, a lot of teams, are like, that’s all the Lakers do, is get to the free-throw line. There’s like this narrative out there that all we do is get to the free throw line. I mean, we have attackers. That’s what we do. Yeah, we shoot the ball from the perimeter, but we’re not shooting 40, 50 threes a game. We’re not that team. We don’t have the luxury of being that team. We’re getting to the paint. That’s what we’re really good at. To have eight free throw attempts is definitely not us. I know definitely I got hit a couple times going to the paint tonight that wasn’t called, but it is what it is.”

The Lakers did outscore Phoenix by 12 in the paint, but the Suns — effectively deploying huge lineups featuring Durant, Jusuf Nurkic, and Bol Bol, were the more physical ballclub, evidenced by a +17 advantage on the glass.

Anthony Davis’ final box score looks impressive — 22 points, 11-of-17 shooting, 14 rebounds, three blocks, two steals — but obscures the fact that he was largely handled by Nurkic (18 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists). The Suns pulled down 14 offensive boards, compared to three for the Lakers.

The Lakers can glom onto officiating as a subject for venting, but they dug their own grave. They surrendered 45 points in a sloppy first quarter that triggered flashbacks to November, when double-digit first-quarter deficits were a regular occurrence.

The Lakers tightened the screws and fought back. They effectively kept Durant (22 points, 7-20 FG) and Devin Booker (21 points, 8-18 FG) in check, but, the Suns’ supporting cast — particularly Grayson Allen (24 points) and Royce O’Neal (20 points) — capitalized on their stars’ gravity.

Other than D’Angelo Russell (20 points), the Lakers didn’t get enough from its ensemble. Ham’s rotations didn’t help. Citing AD’s two early fouls and the opponent’s size, Ham ignored Max Christie (four minutes) and Jaxson Hayes (seven minutes) — two of their better rebounders off the bench. Instead, Taurean Prince (29 minutes, team-worst -13) and Spencer Dinwiddie (3 points, 23 minutes) saw the brunt of the action.

“Super slow start for us, offensively and defensively,” said LeBron. “You give a team 45 points in a quarter, you’re playing an uphill battle, especially, if you’re not scoring 45 points, as well. I thought from that point we played some really good basketball, but their role players did a really great job shooting the ball, Royce O’Neal, Grayson Allen, those boys … and Nurk had a monster 20-20 game, pretty much. We did a pretty good job on their superstars, but that’s what good teams do.”

The loss dropped the Lakers to the No. 10 seed (at time of writing, the Golden State Warriors were leading the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter). The Suns moved into the coveted No. 6 spot. Seven of the Lakers’ next eight games come against playoff teams, beginning with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

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