LOS ANGELES (AP)Keita Bates-Diop scored a career-high 30 points while making all 11 of his shots, and the San Antonio Spurs routed the slumping Los Angeles Lakers 138-110 on Thursday night in the final event at Staples Center under the 22-year-old arena’s original name.
Derrick White had 23 points and Lonnie Walker added 21 in the third victory on a four-game road trip for the Spurs, who hit 18 3-pointers while completing a two-game sweep of the two NBA tenants of the downtown Los Angeles arena.
The building is changing its name to Crypto.com Arena on Christmas under what’s believed to be the richest naming rights agreement in sports history. The cryptocurrency platform and exchange is paying more than $700 million over 20 years to put its name on an arena that has hosted countless major sports and entertainment events since it opened in 1999.
The final night under the old name improbably belonged to Bates-Diop, the fourth-year NBA journeyman averaging 3.8 points per game this season with a previous season-high of 10. He scored 20 points in the second half and hit five 3-pointers during his perfect game from the field while frequently guarding LeBron James on the other end.
”I was playing the game, reading the defense, moving around,” Bates-Diop said. ”I don’t think I dribbled that much. My teammates just found me. … (James) is a great player, but you’ve got to guard him and just not get star-struck by him.”
James had 36 points and nine rebounds and Russell Westbrook scored 30 points for Los Angeles, which has lost four straight for the first time this season amid COVID-19 roster chaos. The Lakers are playing without coach Frank Vogel and five players under the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and they’re 0-4 since Anthony Davis injured his left knee in Minnesota last week.
”We have no chemistry with any lineup from the simple fact that we haven’t logged any minutes,” James said. ”All of our defensive guys are in health and safety protocols. … We don’t need a full roster. We just need some of our guys back.”
San Antonio took an early double-digit lead on the Lakers and comfortably won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 4 despite a subpar game from leading scorer Dejounte Murray, who went 3 for 16. The Spurs’ bench outscored the Lakers’ reserves 69-20.
”Keita was ridiculous,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”Did a fine job at both ends of the court. We could hardly guard LeBron, but he did his best. Really was a team effort, because I thought some of the (bench) guys outplayed the starters.”
Spurs: They also played in the Lakers’ final game at the Forum on May 23, 1999. Tim Duncan scored 33 points then as San Antonio completed a four-game sweep of Los Angeles in the second round of the postseason. Popovich was in his third year as coach. … Keldon Johnson scored 16 points.
Lakers: Interim head coach David Fizdale ran the bench for the second straight game. He said Vogel texts him a list of observations at halftime while watching on television. Fizdale and assistant coach Phil Handy both got technical fouls for arguing with officials. … Davis watched from the bench in a blue sweatsuit while missing his third game. The oft-injured star won’t be reevaluated until late next month.
Signs, advertising boards and innumerable smaller details have been changed at the arena to erase the Staples Center name, which has illogical – but undeniable – sentimental meaning to Los Angeles sports fans who have equated the name of an office-supply retail chain with the center of the basketball universe for more than two decades.
The Lakers recognized the attachment and honored the name change with a pregame video highlighting the team’s greatest moments in its arena. Fans got a commemorative ticket and a gold T-shirt replicating the first shirt given away by the team at this arena during the 2000 playoffs.
In a halftime ceremony, former Lakers stars Robert Horry, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Luke Walton, Byron Scott and Gary Payton stood around a Staples court logo with the franchise’s six championship trophies earned in this building.
Los Angeles (16-17) is back under .500 for the first time since Nov. 26. Dwight Howard got out of the protocols and played 22 minutes as Los Angeles’ starting center, but the Lakers still were without Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves and Trevor Ariza, who went into the protocols earlier in the day.
”Nothing you can do but figure it out,” Westbrook said. ”Find ways. Get guys back in shape. We have a bunch of guys in that locker room that don’t quit and don’t give in to what’s happening. We’ve got to turn the page and find a way to win a ballgame.”
Spurs: Host Detroit on Sunday.
Lakers: Host Brooklyn on Saturday.
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