They’re mounted to the tops of the baskets and tucked next to the scores, a dozen different clocks moving down to zero one second at a time.
The way the Lakers have approached this year, with each tick, the team should look a little better, one of their imperfections getting a little closer to being solved.
The clocks serve as reminder — there’s always something ahead for the team, that titles can’t be won before the time on the season fully runs out.
That’s the big picture. But as the clock has run out on the Lakers’ first two games this season, the zeroes carried with them a building sense of angst and questions about whether these are just early-season hiccups or fatal conditions.
This time, the zeroes meant the Lakers could finally celebrate instead of fret.
Behind incredible game-saving blocks, steals and free throws from Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony’s red-hot shooting and some poise late, the Lakers avoided big-time problems by beating Memphis 121-118.
“We kind of get that monkey off our backs with a win,” Davis said. “… Let this win be a momentum booster for us.”
Davis blocked four shots and had a review overturn what would’ve likely been a game-sealing steal.
A loss would’ve meant three straight home losses to open their season to follow a winless preseason, sending them off on their first trip of the season with their patience and resolve under serious duress.
It’s not as if Sunday’s win over the Grizzlies was devoid of drama. There was plenty — a foul on Kent Bazemore sent Ja Morant to the line for three free throws, but his score-tying attempt rimmed out.
And there was one moment, more than any, though that could’ve meant disaster.
Tangled with a group of midair bodies, LeBron James landed and immediately grabbed at the lower half of his right leg. It was on the same side of the court that Solomon Hill’s body so badly sprained James’ ankle that he ended up missing 26 games.
“Not again,” James thought.
Just as he did after that play, James winced, stood up and he re-laced his sneakers. But unlike last time, this time he was able to walk it off.
After the tense moments, Davis walked over, grabbed James by the arm and made him take a step toward him.
Davis then shot James two thumbs up and the Lakers star stayed in the game.
In addition to avoiding a disaster with James, there was more evidence that the Lakers were moving in the right direction in the first half.
While Russell Westbrook was still missing shots, he was creating offense for his teammates better and more frequently than in any of his other appearances since joining the team.
Davis was aggressive and dominant on the block, Anthony continued to cook off the bench, and Malik Monk and Austin Reaves were as productive as any Lakers shooting guards have been this season.
The team built a 12-point lead in the first half and looked as if they were on their way to their first victory of the year.
But Memphis, even on the second night of weekend games that began with a win over the Clippers on Saturday, didn’t relent.
Morant, one of the NBA’s best young players, carved through the Lakers’ problematic early-season defense, beating them at the rim and from three-point range — an added dimension that could push him and Memphis into a new level in the league.
He finished with 40 points in the loss.
Anthony led six Lakers in double figures with 28, moving past Moses Malone for ninth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
“He didn’t crawl to that milestone,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He blew the doors off of it.”
Behind Morant’s brilliance, the Grizzlies played with plenty of confidence and maturity despite being such a young team that one of its players, Ziaire Williams, actually played high school basketball as a teammate of James’ eldest son.
Anthony gave them some offensive punch in the third quarter, but the team’s defense failed to contain Morant way too frequently.
Just like Stephen Curry did in the opener and just like Chris Paul did in Game 2, an opposing guard had his way with the Lakers, a problem that will especially haunt them with defenders such as Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza sidelined.
But the Lakers’ three-point shooting, a weakness for the bulk of James’ tenure with the Lakers, carried them in the second half with Anthony (six for eight), James (four for nine) and Bazemore (two for two) all hitting big shots.
Monk and Davis hit clutch free throws to seal the win.
The Lakers play in San Antonio on Tuesday.
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