LOS ANGELES — Witnessing the sight of Patrick Beverley strutting around with a finger aloft and letting the Los Angeles Clippers’ team owner, Steve Ballmer, wrap him up in a triumphant hug is not how LeBron James intended to celebrate Christmas.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, it was the sort of dreaded scene that generates an aftertaste bound to linger — and maybe even encroach on James’s 35th birthday on Monday.
“I don’t want to think about it too much,” said Rajon Rondo, one of James’s veteran teammates, when asked to ponder the implications of the Lakers’ second successive loss to their Staples Center co-tenants.
On opening night back in October, with Kyle Kuzma and Rondo out injured, it was easier for the Lakers to rationalize their defeat. On Christmas Day — which is often billed as the marker on the mythical national sporting calendar when the N.B.A. begins to be consumed by a wider audience — it was tougher for the Lakers to take.
They fumed after the Clippers’ 111-106 triumph Wednesday night about a few questionable whistles in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers mostly blamed themselves for squandering a 15-point lead — and allowing the Clippers to bait them into 45 attempts from 3-point range.
The Lakers are not known for their perimeter proficiency and made only 12 of those 45 shots. Despite amassing a near triple-double with 23 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, James was at the heart of his team’s struggles, missing 10 of his 12 attempts from long range and managing just four free-throw attempts — one of which he crucially missed inside the final minute with the Clippers leading by 4.
On the other side, Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with a rugged 35 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists — even after Lakers Coach Frank Vogel started Anthony Davis on Leonard defensively in hopes that Davis’s length would slow him some. Then Beverley, who chipped in nine meaningful rebounds, sealed the win with an ambitious strip with 3.6 seconds remaining as James rose up for a potential game-tying 3 from the wing.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” James said. “We’ve got to continue to get better and we will.”
The Lakers’ predicament, of course, could be much worse. For confirmation, they need only rewind to last Christmas, when James suffered a groin tear in the midst of a stirring victory over the Golden S