LeBron James had a chance to deliver the Los Angeles Lakers a crucial victory over the (um…) Houston Rockets on the final possession in the fourth quarter.

Instead, the man closing in on the NBA’s all-time scoring record who is perhaps more known for his passing dished to the only other active member of his draft class for a jumper that would have been more fashionable in 2003. Carmelo Anthony missed.

Here’s the play (forgive my sarcastic caption):

LeBron seemed to have a tough but makeable layup under the rim. Melo up-faked and stepped into a basic 20-footer. No dice. His miss led to the eighth overtime the Lakers have experienced in 2021-22. They had won six of seven.

The Rockets began OT on a 13-0 blitz, ignited by seven consecutive points from former Igniter Jalen Green. In the end, Los Angeles fell, 139-130 — their fourth loss in five games — to drop to 28-37. (Houston, by the way, is 17-49.) The Lakers have lost nine straight road tests — five of which have been decided in crunch-time.

“We gotta figure out how to win down the stretch, how to win these close games,” Carmelo said. “Not worrying about how we’re not going to lose.”

LeBron, who missed Monday’s loss with a flare-up in his ailing knee, finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists (a season-high) and 4 blocks in 45(!) minutes, despite an uncustomary 9-of-26 shooting night (1-of-9 from deep). He prioritized distribution for much of the evening.

His decision on the ultimate regulation possession called to mind a bygone talking point (that caused him to be ridiculed by Melo and Kobe Bryant in an All-Star Game): Should he have passed out of the potential final bucket in favor of an open teammate?

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Obviously, LeBron has come a long way since those moments. He’s drilled countless clutch buckets and long-abandoned any reputation of passivity with the game on the line. But, considering how overtime transpired, in perhaps the most damaging loss of the season (add it to the list), Lakers fans will undoubtedly wonder: What if LeBron just tried to put it up?

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“Ended up behind the backboard,” said LeBron. “I was a little bit off-balance and I could have forced a reverse layup, but I wasn’t in the position to feel like I could have got a great look. I could have got a decent look and I feel like Melo’s look was a lot better than mine.”

“I saw ‘Bron going to the basket,” Melo recalled. “I just wanted to try and get in his eyesight. I thought he had a layup, but after watching it, the replay on the bench, he was off-balance a little bit.”


LeBron was asked whether he considered dumping it off to Austin Reaves, who dove to the cup. James noted that Reaves — who always seems to be in the right place, a staple of his rookie campaign — cut alongside Russell Westbrook.

“Yeah. But Russ was diving at the same time, so I didn’t have a — Russ dove but then I believe ran into Jalen Green at the same time. I saw Austin but I didn’t have an– If I throw the ball that way and he misses it, now it’s going that way.”

Russ did truck Green, though it appears Reaves may have been open. Alas. a microcosm of the Lakers’ unstructured offense.

To be fair, James was playing on a bum knee. But, LeBron has powered through his weary leg for the past 30+ days. He continues to defy Father Time with tortuous throwdowns and unique acrobatics around the cylinder.

The Lakers have won one game since Feb. 16, and it required LeBron to score 56 points and his knee didn’t recover by the next game. All the nail-biting losses — to both lottery teams and contenders — are undoubtedly taking an emotional toll on this group.

“I just think when you’re losing games, close games the way that we are, the way that we do sometimes, it affects you. You think about it,” Carmelo said about the accumulation of crunch-time shortcomings. “Sometimes it carries over, and sometimes it don’t. So the best thing to do is not let it carry over to the next game and figure out a way to win close games and will ourselves to win close games.”

“It’s right there, man,” Anthony lamented. “It’s a play here, a play there. It’s right there for us to kind of get over this hump.”

Whether LeBron was correct or not to forego the tricky layup, it may end up being a fitting final nail in the coffin on the Lakers season.