TORONTO — The losses continue to mount for the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James limited in what he can do to stem the slide.
Limited because James' minutes are being restricted in the wake of missing 17 games with a groin injury. Limited because his supporting cast in Los Angeles is spotty.
The Lakers (31-37) lost for the sixth time in seven games, going down 111-98 at the hands of the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
James, 34, did his part with a game-high 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting with four rebounds and six assists. He hit one of five three-point attempts and was 4-of-7 from the free throw line.
He did it in just under 32 minutes, well below his career average of 38.6.
"It's challenging for me mentally because I'm so accustomed to being out on the floor, especially when I'm healthy," said a subdued James, his feet immersed in a tub of ice with bags of ice taped to his knees. "But there was a conversation between myself and my trainer and the coaching staff and the front office and this is the direction they wanted to go with for the remainder of the season given the lack of success with our ball club.
"I trust the people in charge and that's what it is."
Despite the restrictions, James has scored 27-plus points in eight straight games, averaging 30.5 points during that span.
Asked how he felt, James replied: "I'm great, fantastic." But asked if he would play Friday in Detroit, he said: I don't know."
Lakers coach Luke Walton dug deep into his bench in Toronto, giving 12 players minutes. James, veteran Rajon Rondo and second-year guard Alex Caruso, who had a career-high 16 points, accounted for 58 of Los Angeles' 98 points.
When James headed to the basket Thursday, he drew a crowd. And when he kicked it out to a teammate, not much good happened.
More often than not James' array of passes rarely worked, either intercepted by Raptors or bungled by his teammates upon reception. With Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Tyson Chandler out injured, James doesn't have much help, although Rondo, with 13 points and eight assists, seemed up to the task.
Early foul trouble for Kyle Kuzma and centre JaVale McGee didn't help, either.
The Lakers turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 20 Toronto points, and made just seven of 31 three-point attempts. The Raptors had 17 turnovers, producing 19 Laker points, but hit 16 of 41 three-pointers.
Los Angeles started the season at 17-10 but has gone 14-27 since then.
"Every year has its own challenges," James said.
Having James on the bench is one of them. Toronto finished off the second quarter with a 14-2 run while the Lakers' superstar watched from the sideline.
"With the injuries we have and LeBron, watching his minutes, we've got to get creative with some of our lineups in making sure that we have groups out there that give us a chance to win," said Walton.
The Lakers rallied from a 20-point deficit to down the Bulls 123-107 in Chicago on Tuesday, snapping a five-game losing streak. James had 36 points and 10 rebounds.
Still, they arrived in Toronto having lost 15 of their last 21 since mid-January.
James, who extended his NBA-record double-digit scoring streak to 923 regular-season games, did not buy the theory that the team's poor season changes the message to free agents about the lure of Los Angeles.
"I think everybody knew that coming into this year, it was still going to be challenging no matter if we were all healthy and we played all 82 games," he said. "I think obviously myself being out five weeks, Rondo being out five weeks, (Ingram) being out for the remainder of the season, early suspensions (from a scuffle with the Houston Rockets in October), (Ball) being out the remainder of the season, (Kuzma) being out. JaVale had pneumonia at one point.
"I mean it's taken a toll on our team and we're a team that was built on depth. And when you continue to have injuries and things of that nature, your depth is not as you would like it to be obviously and it's hard on our ball club."
James then chose to see a positive.
"We have an opportunity to get better this summer — through free agency and also through the draft. I believe our front office and our coaching staff will make that happen."
Gold James jerseys dotted the soldout crowd of 19,962 at Scotiabank Arena. A late arrival for the pre-game warmup, James drew cheers as he raced to the Lakers' end of the court.
The first Laker to be announced during introductions, he drew a loud ovation.
There were boos two minutes in when he went to the free-throw line, however.
James had six points in the first quarter and seven in the second, when he drew oohs and aahs with a thundering two-handed dunk. He added nine in the third and seven in the fourth.
Caruso outscoring James (14 points to 13) in the first half would have drawn long odds, however. During halftime, Caruso — who came into the game averaging 3.2 points a game this season — was trending on Twitter in Toronto.
James, who helped Cleveland eliminate the Raptors in the playoffs the last three seasons, has yet to beat Toronto as a Laker. Los Angeles lost 121-107 when they met Nov. 4 at the Staples Center.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
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