Lakers face another tall defensive task when playing the Magic without Anthony Davis

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic fakes out Los Angeles Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emil T. Lippe)

Forward Wenyen Gabriel and other Lakers defenders will go from chasing Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, left, to trying to contain Orlando’s 7-foot-2 Bol Bol. (Emil T. Lippe / Associated Press)

For the second time in three games, LeBron James used part of his time at the postgame podium to point out the obvious — the Lakers are small. In a league that values ​​length, his team is nearly devoid — an easy problem to project once the roster was set heading into training camp.

It was an issue with Anthony Davis cleaning up messes like a Magic Eraser in the paint. Without the 6-foot-10 forward, it’s been a fatal flaw for a team that’s now reeling.

“Reality is, without AD, we lose a lot of length which we don’t have already,” James said Sunday in Dallas after a 124-115 loss, the team’s fourth in a row. “So we have to make up in ways that, without AD, is very difficult, very challenging.”

Since Davis’ injury, the Lakers have been the worst defensive team in the NBA, giving up 125.8 points per 100 possessions in the five games he’s missed.

The task won’t get any easier facing 7-2 Bol Bol and Orlando, which has won two in a row, on Tuesday. The Lakers will be trying to avoid their third five-game losing streak of the season against a team that has another half dozen big men 6-10 to 7-feet tall.

“Obviously there’s nothing you can do to fill the void of Anthony Davis — especially, the year he’s had this year, not only offense, but obviously rim protection, rebounding,” guard Patrick Beverley said. “You have to do it collectively. And as a start, defensively.

“The last four or five games, we’ve given up 120 points, plus. Ah, it’s tough to win in this league if you’re giving up that many points. We’re scoring a ton of points, though. It’s a positive, but we’re giving up a ton too.”

Asked where the Lakers are “at” when it comes to competing defensively, guard Russell Westbrook passed.

“Umm … I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have that answer for you.”

The answers to the Lakers’ problems are getting harder to find — the notion that there are internal fixes available seeming less and less believable with every game in their recent losing streak.

Yet as the Lakers continue to lose, the idea that this season is worth trying to salvage seems crazier.

With no Davis, coach Darvin Ham has been willing to try seemingly everything, even playing a lineup with five guards where 6-5 Austin Reaves and the 6-3 Westbrook were the tallest Lakers on the court.

“You’ve got to be willing to try those things,” Ham said. “Again, that’s a huge hole. But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to work even harder. When you face adversity, I was always taught you lean back on your principles. As coaches, we have to teach harder, coach harder, illustrate things in film. Continue to do that. And as players, guys just have to dig in deep and try to band together and be more cohesive.”

Ham said the Lakers might go to their smaller lineups earlier in games than they did Sunday against Dallas, including looks with James at center.

“Just trying to get more possessions in the game,” Ham said. “When you go small like that, any one of those guys can get a defensive rebound and push it. When you’re trying to play fast, you’re trying to attack downhill and trying to put the other team on their heels. Put them in position where they’re fouling. You can use the free-throw line to try and get back into the game or sustain a lead.”

Until the Lakers either get healthy or make some kind of roster move, they’re going to have games where their defense struggles. And if they’re able to get stops, then they’ll have to rebound despite giving up size all over the court.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out,” James said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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