Frustrated Lakers believe fouls not being called equally

PHOENIX — All LeBron James could do was laugh Sunday when asked about the free throw disparity in the Los Angeles Lakers123-113 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix shot 19 free throws as compared to just eight for L.A., representing a season low for the Lakers and tying the fewest such attempts in any game for the team since James joined the franchise in 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

While James was exasperated, his coach, Darvin Ham, was angered.

“I’m not one to use referees as an excuse,” Ham said. “But it’s becoming increasingly tough because of the inconsistency. I’m seeing our guys get the same contact on them as we’re supposedly committing. And the whistle is not being blown.”

L.A. entered the game averaging 24.7 free throws per game as a team, the sixth most in the league.

“That’s something we focus on, trying to win the free throw line every game,” Ham said. “And so that’s tough. I’m telling my guys to drive downhill; we’re trying to love and live in the paint. And you’re not getting calls. I see guys with their hands in our guys’ ribs or swinging, swiping at their heads, trying to block the shot but not getting the ball, but getting a piece of the body. And it’s not being called, as simple as that.

“So, we have to figure out ways to not let that be a problem, but it’s tough. Again, it’s frustrating when there’s so much inconsistency.”

The Lakers had zero free throw attempts in Sunday’s second half, marking the first time one of James’ teams did not attempt a single foul shot in any half since December 2015.

“A lot of people, a lot of coaches, a lot of teams are like, ‘That’s all the Lakers do is get to the free throw line,'” James said. “It’s like this narrative out there that that’s all we do is get to the free throw line. I mean, we have attackers. That’s what we do. We have attackers. Yeah, we shoot the ball from the perimeter, but we’re not shooting 40 to 50 3s a game. We’re not that team. We don’t have the luxury of being that team. So, working it into the paint, that’s what we’re really good at.

“To have eight free throw attempts is definitely not us. I know, definitely, I got hit a couple times when I got to the paint tonight that wasn’t called. But it is what it is.”

James, who averages 5.4 free throw attempts per game, went 1-for-4 from the line. Lakers big man Anthony Davis, who averages 6.9 free throw attempts per game, had zero free throw attempts for the first time all season.

“We live on getting to the line. We attack the basket,” Davis said. “Especially how much we struggle from the 3, we’re kind of up and down, so we try to live in the paint and get to the line. I’m not sure if it was just the refs missing it or they weren’t fouling. I felt I got fouled a couple of times. But that’s part of our identity, our DNA, is getting to the line and guys catching rhythms like that and then playing from there.”

It was the first time in Davis’ career that he played 40-plus minutes and did not attempt a free throw, per ESPN Stats & Info data.

As much as the free throws might have been a factor, the Lakers didn’t do themselves any favors by allowing the Suns to score 45 points in the first quarter en route to a lead that swelled to as many as 20 points. L.A. cut the deficit to just two points late in the third quarter but was unable to get closer.

Davis admitted the Lakers allowed the officials’ calls — or non-calls — to affect their focus.

“Whether we think we got fouled or not, we got to get back [on defense] because the team is going to push,” Davis said. “We don’t want to be at a disadvantage. It happened a couple of times tonight. I think I had one in front of their bench. But we got to have a next-play mentality and getting back knowing teams are going to push and, most times, they’re going to make us pay.”

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