With LeBron James still out, Lakers rally to defeat Knicks in OT thriller

The optimism that flowed out of the Lakers’ camp following the weekend was a little muted Tuesday, the presumed return of LeBron James put on hold for at least another game while he gave his injured ankle another day to rest.

Following a full practice Monday — a practice seemingly held explicitly for James to get back on the court — team doctors told coach Frank Vogel that James would be unable to play against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, ensuring the Lakers would again have to play short-handed.

Scoring was a struggle, but the Lakers were up for the fight, Wesley Matthews sending the game to overtime with a tip-in and Talen Horton-Tucker sending the Knicks home with a game-winning three in overtime, capping a wild 101-99 win.

Already missing James and starting point guard Dennis Schroder, the Lakers also lost fill-in starter Alex Caruso in the first half, the sort foot that’s bothered him for the last two games finally catching up with him.

The playmaking duties all fell onto Talen Horton-Tucker’s shoulders, the second-year guard taking on the greatest offensive responsibility of his young career.

The stretches without him were particularly rocky, the Lakers trying to split playmaking duties with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Ben McLemore.

Predictably, the offense was clunky, especially with the defense-minded Knicks clogging things up with their pressure and physicality.

Luckily for the Lakers, Kuzma returned after missing one game with back soreness to help ignite the offense in stretches, scoring 16 points in the first half.

For long stretches the Lakers didn’t have nearly enough offense without their usual ballhandlers, a miserable second half defined by scoring droughts and standstill offensive possessions.

Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, right, celebrates with his teammates after a 101-99 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

For the Knicks, seeing his former team did nothing to slow Julius Randle down, the All-NBA lock showing his blossoming all-around offensive game. Randle, alongside the resurgent Derrick Rose, has the Knicks in good shape for the approaching playoffs, the team knowing exactly who it is and what it has.

For the Lakers, that kind of knowledge still requires a vivid imagination.

Before the Lakers’ game with the Knicks, Vogel wouldn’t commit to James making his return Wednesday in their regular-season home finale.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 101-99 overtime win against the New York Knicks at Staples Center on Tuesday.

“We’ll continue to look at it day to day,” Vogel said. “He’s going to, again, do some more rehab work today and we’ll evaluate the response to that work tomorrow and make a decision on tomorrow tomorrow.”

Vogel said James came out of Monday’s practice without a setback, but team doctors decided it’d be best to hold him out.

“He’s going to come back when it’s safe to and when it makes sense to,” Vogel said.

The Lakers have three more games following Tuesday, hosting Houston before traveling to Indiana and New Orleans for the final weekend of the season.

Reaching the top six in the conference seemed unlikely before the Lakers lost Caruso, and watching repeated turnovers and wasted offensive sets in the fourth quarter with the Lakers’ top three point-guard options out wasn’t too inspiring.

Up next for Lakers: vs. Houston Rockets

When: 7:30

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330

Update: The Lakers play their final game at Staples Center during the regular season against the lowly Rockets, with the most exciting stuff probably happening pregame. First, that’s when the Lakers will find out whether LeBron James’ temperamental ankle is feeling good enough for him to return. And then secondly, the Lakers will finally unveil their 2020 NBA championship banner.

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