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Out-of-form Chelsea look at Monaco's Tchouameni

Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni has reportedly been identified as N'Golo Kante's successor at Chelsea. Transfer Talk has the latest. (Author: Gardener)

MonacoThe January 2022 transfer window is open (find out when it closes here) and there's a lot of gossip about who's going where. Chelsea are leading Manchester United in the race to sign Monaco prodigy Aurelien Tchouameni, according to The Sun. The 21-year-old Frenchman has been linked with a £50million move to west London and is seen by many not only as a long-term replacement for compatriot N'Golo Kante, but also as a potential future linchpin of the entire Blues midfield . Tchouameni is also wanted by Man United, although there are rumors the Red Devils have dampened their interest as they try to pursue other targets. However, the young Ligue 1 Player of the Year 2020-21 remains in demand and interesting for Barcelona as well. However, Monaco are at risk of failing to qualify for European football next season, which could mean he decides to cut his losses and move to a club with guaranteed action on Europe's biggest stage in January. - ESPN+ viewer's guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more - According to the Mirror, Manchester United are one of several Premier League clubs keeping tabs on Aberdeen prodigy Calvin Ramsey. The Red Scouts are believed to have sent to watch the coveted star play in Tuesday's 1-1 draw against Rangers in Pittodrie. The 18-year-old right-back has been a shining light for Aberdeen this season, providing four assists from the cross in 12 appearances. Other clubs interested in Ramsey's talent include Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City, Southampton and Leeds United. - Barcelona want to fend off interest in Gavi from Liverpool and Manchester City, according to Sport. The Spaniards have started negotiations with the 17-year-old's representatives later than planned after being delayed by the arrival of Ferran Torres earlier this month, but it is hoped they will welcome the talented youngster - Barcelona's third-youngest goalscorer to their side -- can convince history -- to agree to an extension of his existing contract. - Leeds are preparing a second bid for US striker Brenden Aaronson after Red Bull Salzburg rejected his initial £15million offer, The Mirror reports. However, Leeds refuse to give him up and believe the 21-year-old, who also scored twice for USMNT in World Cup qualifiers, has great potential. Leeds are confident they can sign Aaronson, known as 'Medford Messi', in January. - According to Fabrizio Romano, Lille's talented youngster Rocco Ascone is attracting interest from top clubs in Italy and France. The 18-year-old midfielder has been in the Lille first-team since he was 17 but believes he could potentially get more playing time if he leaves the club. However, Lille is unwilling to let his star go permanently and if he is due to leave in January he is likely to be loaned out. - AC Milan's search for a central defender continues and Fabrizio Romano says the Italians are only interested in a loan deal. With that in mind, he believes the Rossoneri are targeting Manchester United's Eric Bailly and Paris Saint-Germain's Abdou Diallo, although no new contacts have been made. Tottenham Hotspur's Japhet Tanganga is also high on the wanted list but Spurs are not expected to let the 22-year-old go until next week.

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Brighton hurts Chelsea's title hopes further

Brighton deal another heavy blow to Chelsea's fading hopes of winning the Premier League title this season by coming from behind and clinching a well-deserved draw. (Author: Gardener)

ChelseaBrighton dealt another serious blow to Chelsea's fading hopes of winning the Premier League title this season by scoring a well-deserved draw from a deficit at the Amex Stadium. Thomas Tuchel's side started poorly and lacked assertiveness, opening the scoring against the flow of play with Hakim Ziyech's well-placed low shot from outside the box. But they failed to build on the moment, never seemed confident, and for all their desperate intentions, they just couldn't find a way to restore their lead and claim the decisive victory. The gap between the third-placed Blues and the sovereign leaders Manchester City is 12 points, with Thomas Tuchel's team having played one game more - certainly an insurmountable gap. Brighton are now unbeaten in six games in all competitions and continue to gain confidence and class under Graham Potter. Thanks to their equalizer, they looked far more likely to win the game in the final 30 minutes rather than settle for a point that puts them 29th, three away from a European qualifying spot. Brighton can be proud to have been the bookends for 21 days in which Chelsea's title hopes have dwindled. The two points Albion have claimed from those games will add less to their own league position than the four they denied the Blues to damage theirs, but they are symbolic of the huge strides this side is making under Potter . In both games Brighton had to come from behind but each time a draw was the least they deserved against a side brimming with elite talent, led by a coach who is regarded by Fifa as the best in the world and with fresh memories of European glory. They managed 18 shots on goal at Stamford Bridge before Danny Welbeck nodded the last of them in added time. Jakub Moder shot just wide of the goal early on, Welbeck fired a few shots, crosses regularly flew through the penalty area when the European champion dug in. Webster's equalizing header from Alexis Mac Allister's corner was as good as anyone can see - powerful and accurate after a run to avoid a marker and into space. The harshest critic might say that Albion have once again failed to assert their dominance - something Potter's side were booed off the field for not long ago. Seven games in all competitions, three league points out of a possible 12. In their best final season, the Blues were a machine, crushing powerful opponents with possession dominance and tactical superiority. Here they struggled to match the intensity of their opponents and never seemed to be in control. It was telling that Ziyech didn't celebrate his goal against the flow of play, perhaps indicating that the result was far from settled. They have now retained just two in their last 13 games. The Blues have now also failed to win any of their last four Premier League games in which they have scored first - hardly the quality of a potential champion. * Our coverage of your Premier League club is bigger and better than ever - here's everything you need to know to make sure you don't miss a moment

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Chelsea "mentally and physically tired," says Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel says Chelsea players are 'mentally and physically tired' after 1-1 draw at Brighton. (Author: Gardener)

ChelseaThomas Tuchel has said Chelsea's players are "mentally and physically tired" after just one win in seven Premier League games and 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester City after their 1-1 draw at Brighton. They have now picked up just three league points from a possible 12 in a 21-day span in which they have played seven games in all competitions. As they battle on on other fronts - including the Carabao Cup, where they qualified for the finals last week - their attempts to keep up with an overbearing city seem doomed. You'll also have to watch the teams below them now, with Arsenal nine points behind and Tottenham 11 three and five games down respectively. "We look tired because we're tired and we're playing against a strong, well-prepared Brighton team," Tuchel told BBC Radio 5 Live. When you're tired - mentally and physically - you lack position and focus. You can see it in our game, but we know where it's coming from. At some point you sit in the bus and think 'where are we going?' You have to reorient yourself and think about where are we going, when are we there, when are we playing and when is the next meeting? We are the team that plays and plays and plays so you feel it naturally. That's why we have to switch off, recharge our batteries and come back hungry and happy to play these games. Tuchel has given his side the next two days to recover before they begin preparations for their home league game against Tottenham on Sunday - their 21st game since early November. "We're giving two days off because we have four days between games," continued the German. "Then we'll use the international break to recharge our batteries. We'll give the players a week off, absolutely." Chelsea were second best for most of Tuesday's game and were lucky to walk away by a point. Brighton are in good form, five games unbeaten, and played with an energy and confidence that the visitors lacked. "They played it like a cup game," said Tuchel. "The crowd celebrated the draw at the end as if it were a win. It's difficult to play here anyway. We made a lot of simple mistakes but I know where that came from, so no harm." “We had our moments and even at the end of the game, surprisingly, we felt that maybe we could walk away with a win because we have the individual quality. It means Brighton have now drawn twice in 21 days against Chelsea, both times coming from behind "Obviously we're not happy," goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga told BBC Match of the Day. "We lost two points in both games. We scored first, we were in a good position to control the game, but they played a very physical game - one-on-one across the field. "We need points because we want to be at the top of the league. I think we're good in all competitions. We're in the Champions League. We're in a cup final but we lost points in the league last month so we have to go back to the back on the road to success because everyone is coming." We are in a difficult world where Chelsea have had injuries and a Covid situation. No player goes into a game without wanting to win or do their best, but the intensity wasn't there. They couldn't get close to any Brighton players and that was a little worrying. The energy isn't quite right. Thomas Tuchel is trying to yell tactics and I think they can hear it but can't do it now for some reason and then he gets frustrated and then he just sat down for about 25 minutes. It's like he kind of gave up giving the information because he couldn't provide it to them. We didn't see Mason Mount enough, barely mentioned Romelu Lukaku, then came Timo Werner - a player who is very lacking in confidence. The whole Chelsea front line isn't there. You can only put so much pressure on the back line and now they've lost that clean sheet mentality. I think Chelsea are looking behind them now and thinking, 'Can we stay in this top 4?' Chelsea are not in the title race. They now need to see a bit of application to ensure they can get Champions League football. You need to step away for a period of reflection and get back to that clean sheet mentality. * Our Chelsea coverage is bigger and better than ever - here's everything you need to know to make sure you don't miss a moment * All Chelsea - jump straight to the best content

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Chelsea "mentally and physically tired," says Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel says Chelsea players are 'mentally and physically tired' after 1-1 draw at Brighton. (Author: Gardener)

ChelseaThomas Tuchel has said Chelsea's players are "mentally and physically tired" after just one win in seven Premier League games and 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester City after their 1-1 draw at Brighton. They have now picked up just three league points from a possible 12 in a 21-day span in which they have played seven games in all competitions. As they battle on on other fronts - including the Carabao Cup, where they qualified for the finals last week - their attempts to keep up with an overbearing city seem doomed. You'll also have to watch the teams below them now, with Arsenal nine points behind and Tottenham 11 three and five games down respectively. "We look tired because we're tired and we're playing against a strong, well-prepared Brighton team," Tuchel told BBC Radio 5 Live. When you're tired - mentally and physically - you lack position and focus. You can see it in our game, but we know where it's coming from. At some point you sit in the bus and think 'where are we going?' You have to reorient yourself and think about where are we going, when are we there, when are we playing and when is the next meeting? We are the team that plays and plays and plays so you feel it naturally. That's why we have to switch off, recharge our batteries and come back hungry and happy to play these games. Tuchel has given his side the next two days to recover before they begin preparations for their home league game against Tottenham on Sunday - their 21st game since early November. "We're giving two days off because we have four days between games," continued the German. "Then we'll use the international break to recharge our batteries. We'll give the players a week off, absolutely." Chelsea were second best for most of Tuesday's game and were lucky to walk away by a point. Brighton are in good form, five games unbeaten, and played with an energy and confidence that the visitors lacked. "They played it like a cup game," said Tuchel. "The crowd celebrated the draw at the end as if it were a win. It's difficult to play here anyway. We made a lot of simple mistakes but I know where that came from, so no harm." “We had our moments and even at the end of the game, surprisingly, we felt that maybe we could walk away with a win because we have the individual quality. It means Brighton have now drawn twice in 21 days against Chelsea, both times coming from behind "Obviously we're not happy," goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga told BBC Match of the Day. "We lost two points in both games. We scored first, we were in a good position to control the game, but they played a very physical game - one-on-one across the field. "We need points because we want to be at the top of the league. I think we're good in all competitions. We're in the Champions League. We're in a cup final but we lost points in the league last month so we have to go back to the back on the road to success because everyone is coming." We are in a difficult world where Chelsea have had injuries and a Covid situation. No player goes into a game without wanting to win or do their best, but the intensity wasn't there. They couldn't get close to any Brighton players and that was a little worrying. The energy isn't quite right. Thomas Tuchel is trying to yell tactics and I think they can hear it but can't do it now for some reason and then he gets frustrated and then he just sat down for about 25 minutes. It's like he kind of gave up giving the information because he couldn't provide it to them. We didn't see Mason Mount enough, barely mentioned Romelu Lukaku, then came Timo Werner - a player who is very lacking in confidence. The whole Chelsea front line isn't there. You can only put so much pressure on the back line and now they've lost that clean sheet mentality. I think Chelsea are looking behind them now and thinking, 'Can we stay in this top 4?' Chelsea are not in the title race. They now need to see a bit of application to ensure they can get Champions League football. You need to step away for a period of reflection and get back to that clean sheet mentality. * Our Chelsea coverage is bigger and better than ever - here's everything you need to know to make sure you don't miss a moment * All Chelsea - jump straight to the best content

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Dropping points is becoming the new normal for Chelsea

Thomas Tuchel insisted Chelsea's fatigue at Brighton was normal amid a busy schedule, but it's their slump in form that has now become normal. (Author: Gardener)

ChelseaBRIGHTON, England — Hakim Ziyech's reaction to his goal said it all. Chelsea's standout moment in another disappointing evening that wiped out the faintest hopes of the title came midway through the first half against the flow of play when the Dutch-born attacker's deflected shot crept into the near post of Brighton & Hove Albion goalkeeper Robert Sanchez. Only Jorginho's hug stopped Ziyech from going straight back to the halfway line. Instead, his teammates rushed to participate in what could very loosely be described as a celebration, and a candid conversation quickly ensued between Ziyech, Mason Mount and then Marcos Alonso that included some urgent pointing and gesturing. Chelsea had been overplayed up to that moment and after Brighton rediscovered their equalizer stance this pattern continued into a second half in which Adam Webster equalized and the home side spurned several promising moments to find a winner, who ultimately settled for a 1-1 draw. 1 draw - a familiar feeling for Graham Potter's side this season. Blues boss Thomas Tuchel described all this as signs of fatigue. He was also happy to smear Ziyech's inability to celebrate his first league goal since December 1. "Happy - he can score 20 more goals and not celebrate so I have no problem with that," he said. As the players left the pitch at half-time, Ziyech and Romelu Lukaku began another exchange of blows that can at best be described as a clear disagreement over Chelsea's attacking method. The television camera accompanying them could hardly have been closer, perhaps prompting Ziyech to at least cover his mouth to hide his part of the conversation, but Lukaku's dismay was undiminished. "It's normal for them to talk, it's normal for them not to be happy and it's normal for us to say we want more from them," said Tuchel. However, this is threatening to become a worrying new normal for Chelsea. Recent efforts are undoubtedly a mitigating factor; Brighton have had an extra day to prepare for this game, which has been rearranged after an original postponement due to COVID-19, and Chelsea's trip to Manchester City three days earlier will no doubt have made a mark considering how much the side are Pep Guardiola has almost every opponent watching the ball. But it was hard not to feel that Chelsea's negative body language ran deeper than simple fatigue. Their performance improved little in the second half and the sluggishness seemed to affect even Tuchel, who started the first half in typically lively form, frustrated by Chelsea's error-ridden game before retiring to his dugout seat for much of the second half . The 48-year-old has made a name for himself for game-changing substitutions and tactical changes but here he waited until the 80th minute to make a rare treble, but by then it was already too late to reverse Brighton's momentum. After that, the normally friendly Chelsea boss was brusque in a TV interview, repeatedly telling the reporter "not to do that" as he pointed to a fourth straight league game without a win - incidentally the longest career Tuchel has enjoyed as manager since October has 2016 at Borussia Dortmund. Most recently, the Blues won the Premier League on Boxing Day. Here they hardly threw a punch. Tuchel hopes that two days off will trigger a revival. "[We need it] so, so badly," he said. Look at our schedule, look at the schedule when we got to Man City. Now that we're getting here, they've had more days to prepare than they had all week to prepare before. We need to switch off, that's my feeling, so we're giving the players two days off." They already look quite absent, certainly from the top of the table, where they expected when they last signed Lukaku from Internazionale for €115m following that draw Chelsea are 12 points adrift of City after playing a game more, with Tottenham Hotspur next up at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, despite having comfortably beaten Spurs over two games in their Carabao Cup semi-final earlier this month , they would face defeat becoming increasingly vulnerable to being drawn into a top four clash including West Ham United and Arsenal. To round off a dour evening, Tuchel dismissed a harmless question about Lukaku's individual performance: "I will today Don't talk about individual players." He replied. Romelu is far from the problem, he is part of the solution." find ng quickly.

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Frank Vogel in the hot seat as Lakers inconsistency continues

Frank Vogel's tenure as Los Angeles Lakers head coach is reportedly in jeopardy as L.A. continues to struggle. (Author: Gardener)

Frank VogelAccording to a report from The Athletic, Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel could be on his way out the door despite a win over the Utah Jazz on Monday in Tinseltown and was nearly relieved of his duties after a 37-point loss in Denver on Saturday. "When the Lakers and Jazz tipped Monday night, sources say Vogel was training for his job after narrowly avoiding a layoff after the 37-point loss in Denver 48 hours earlier," said Bill Oram and Sam Amick wrote. "Had such a scene repeated itself against Jazz, many would have thought it would have been Vogel's last game." According to the report, Vogel's employment status is evaluated every night. “Vogel, who coached the Lakers to a championship in 2020 and whose contract runs through the 2022-23 season, is being evaluated game-by-game and risks being fired soon if progress doesn't continue. sources said. It's unclear how much Monday's win relieved the pressure surrounding him." Arguably the biggest problem for the Lakers this season has been the absence of superstar forward Anthony Davis, who has missed 17 games, including the last 14. However, the team's inconsistency and apparent inability to work together as a unit might come a close second Consider this: Since Dec. 10, the Lakers have won three straight, lost five straight, shared a pair, won four straight and lost three straight before Monday's win Although Monday's win came against one of the league's best teams in the Jazz, it was only two days after that 133-96 loss the Nuggets A. under Vogel. In its debut season, 2019-20, the Lakers won the NBA championship in the Orlando bubble, but last season they fell to eventual Wes in the first round in six games tern conference champion Phoenix Suns. Additionally, they finished seventh in the West last season and clinched a three-point win over the Golden State Warriors in the play-in round to qualify for the postseason. Under Vogel, the Lakers are 116-71 (.620) in the regular season and 18-9 (.667) in the postseason. In 44 games in his freshman season, the Lakers went 35-9 (.795) and in 44 games in his sophomore season 28-16 (.636). A. had an offensive rating of 112.0 (ranked 12th in the NBA), a defensive rating of 106.3 (third), and a net rating of +5.7 (fifth). In 2020-21, the Lakers had a 109.9 offensive rating (24th), a 107.1 defensive rating (first), and a +2.8 net rating (eighth). This season, her 108.7 offensive rating is 24th, her 110.1 defensive rating is 17th, and her -1.4 net rating is 21st in the NBA. With two playoff appearances and an NBA title in just over two seasons, should Vogel's job be in jeopardy? Shannon Sharpe said yes on Tuesday's Undisputed show, but not because Vogel is failing as a coach - because the Lakers, by design, spelled disaster for their coach. I don't like Frank Vogel's formations, his rotations – I don't like that. Do you understand that the pieces they have together don't work? D. and LeBron [James] would work Field, 28.9% from distance and 66.8% from the free-throw line D. missed a large chunk of the season, despite James having a stellar season in his 19th season (28.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 6.5 APG) "It wasn't enough to keep the Lakers above .500. In Skip Bayless's view, although Sharpe's opinion is true, Vogel could, amidst the ups and downs of the Lakers end up as collateral damage." I believe him The clock officially started ticking on Saturday night when the great Magic Johnson tweeted his shame at the lack of effort and sense of urgency after the game. The Lakers take on Indiana next on Wednesday before setting sail for a six-game East Coast road trip. Whether Vogel will remain busy by the time they venture back west will apparently continue to be an hour's consideration.

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Five Lakers trade targets that could save the season

A look at five trade targets that could help the Lakers turn their season around. (Author: Gardener)

seasonThe Los Angeles Lakers have struggled mightily this season and are 22-22 in 44 games. The team's Big Three, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, weren't well-matched and the roster needs a major overhaul if Frank Vogel's roster plans to make noise in the postseason. The problem is, the Lakers don't have a ton of assets that other NBA teams would be excited about. Both Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn could lure teams, and the Lakers have some second-round draft picks to do, a $4.4 million trade exception and future first-rounders too. What follows is a list of five players the Lakers could enlist to turn their season around. The Lakers take an interest in Gordon and he immediately became one of the team's best players. Despite being 33 years old and not in his prime, Gordon is a 37.2 percent career 3-point shooter and is hitting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc this season. He only plays 29.3 minutes per game but averages 14.9 points per game for the Houston Rockets. He's slated to make $19.6 million next season, and the Rockets want to delay his deal. Gordon would likely come at a reasonable price and give the Lakers a slap up the wing, although he wouldn't do much defensively. It would go well with James and Westbrook as a ground spacer. Terrence Ross is another player the Lakers are eyeing who could give the wing a boost. His 3-point shooting is down this year (31.4 percent), but he's hit 36.4 percent from beyond the arc during his career. While his defensive rating is an ugly 116.8 this season, he has played solid defense for much of his career previously. Ross is another inexpensive option that could score from the wing and ease the pressure on James, Westbrook and Davis. He has one season left for $11.5 million, so the price is reasonable and the Orlando Magic will likely move him to a rebuild year. Another perimeter player the Lakers have expressed interest in is Gary Trent Jr. The 23-year-old shooting guard is averaging 16.4 points per game for the Toronto Raptors this season, hitting 36.8 percent of his 3- points-points. He is a 38.6 percent shooter from across the arc during his career. Trent is in the first year of a three-year, $51.8 million contract. But again, he's exactly what the Lakers need, a man with ground clearance and a decent contract. Grant is a two-way wing that everyone in the NBA seems to want to trade for. The 27-year-old has another year on his contract for around $21 million and is averaging 20.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 33.2 minutes per game. He's exactly what the Lakers need in a hard-hitting wing that's an excellent defender. The Lakers don't have a first-round pick until 2025, so the Detroit Pistons could shy away from any non-asset deal in the short term. Horton-Tucker and Nunn could help work out the salaries and aren't terrible plays. Grant is exactly the kind of player who could turn this struggling Lakers roster around. However, it will take some serious maneuvering to pull off a deal. The Indiana Pacers are keen to move Myles Turner before the trade deadline and the Lakers are interested in taking on the 25-year-old. He has a year and $17.5 million left on his contract and could get cheaper considering how his game has slipped. Turner is only averaging 12.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 29.4 minutes per game this season. He's an agile center who can shoot and could reignite his career alongside James, Westbrook and Davis. Again, that deal would require some maneuvering, but Turner wouldn't cost as much as Grant and could offer a serious boost.

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Can Stanley Johnson make the difference for the Lakers?

It's unwise to assume anything about Lakers fans, but in this case I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and believe they know they can't expect a 7-9 from the field and 10 points in the fourth quarter on a regular basis from Stanley Johnson. He was a one-man Monday night wrecking crew for the Los Angeles Lakers. (Author: Gardener)

Can Stanley JohnsonIt's unwise to assume anything about Lakers fans, but in this case I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and believe they know they can't expect a 7-9 from the field and 10 points in the fourth quarter on a regular basis from Stanley Johnson. Best player on the court, not named LeBron James, as the Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 101-95. It was a much-needed win for the Lakers after a brutal 37-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. At no point in that game were they in front past the first quarter, and in the second half they didn't score 20 points as a team in either the third or fourth quarters. The loss was the third straight for the Lakers, and after the game James apologized to Lakers fans. In that loss to the Nuggets, Johnson played just 13 minutes and averaged 12.7 minutes per game during the Lakers' three-game losing streak. However, he played in three games during the Lakers' winning streak before this latest slip-up, averaging 21.1 minutes. Noticing his positive impact, the Lakers front office decided on Monday to sign Johnson to a third 10-day contract. He was originally signed as a backup during the Lakers' COVID outbreak, but earned a second 10-day contract. At this point, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft could be the player needed to help the Lakers through this mediocre 2021-22 season. Gobert had a rough night getting dunned first by Russell Westbrook and then he couldn't keep Johnson off the basket late in the game. As the Jazz rose in the third quarter, it was the two-man game with James and Johnson that started the Lakers' run in the fourth quarter. While that won't happen every night, Johnson's defensive intensity and frenzy can be present every night, which the Lakers desperately need, especially on the perimeter. By trading Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and signing Alex Caruso to free agency with the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers took two key wheels out of one of the NBA's best defenses. Offense has been a struggle in recent years, but if their defense is capable of keeping the game tight, they have LeBron James in the fourth quarter. This season, the Lakers are 17th in defensive standings with 110.1 points per 100 possessions. Johnson provides the Lakers with much-needed distance and athleticism on the edge. He recorded two blocks, one steal, and his defense was key to keeping the team with the best offensive rating in the NBA below 100 points. Though he wasn't known as a defensive stopper in his young career, during that three-game stretch, when he averaged 21.1 minutes per game, the Lakers didn't give up more than 125 points in three straight contests like they did during their three-game loss did streak. Also, the Lakers need his overall energy as much as his length at the girth. It was his offensive rebound and assist late in the fourth quarter that was the most important play of the game. The return of Anthony Davis will give defense a huge boost, and with Johnson playing at maximum energy, the Lakers could at least shore up that side of the ball. Their offensive won't turn into a move juggernaut by the close of trade, but Johnson's energy is much needed in a multi-player team on the other side of the 30-year-old. Take the youth, energy and desperation of a recent top 10 pick reduced to a COVID substitute and try to drive that as far from the play-in tournament as possible.

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Utah Jazz trades negative narratives against Lakers

After a lackluster defense dominated the headlines of late, the Utah Jazz's top-tier offense fell victim to selfish decision-making against an LA team that allowed opponents to score at will. (Author: Gardener)

Utah JazzUtah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley (20) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, January 17, 2022. After several days of media back-and-forth, self-inflicted drama ensued over whether the Utah Jazz full-backs were doing enough to help Rudy Gobert. The team was happy to quiet the noise with a nice win Sunday night in Denver. Unfortunately, the screeching horns returned Monday night in Los Angeles... but at least did the Jazz set off some other alarms this time? Oh, there are still defensive questions, of course, as the Lakers' ridiculously effective small-ball fourth quarter, assisted by Stanley Johnson, couldn't help but evoke memories of how Terance Mann and the Clippers last gutted Utah's postseason hopes have June. And yet Monday's dominant storyline brought all the blatant errors committed in a listless, lifeless offensive performance against a side that earned their opponents absolutely bloody points. Los Angeles entered the matchup on a three-game losing streak, having dropped 127 points to the Grizzlies, 125 to the Kings, and 133 to the Nuggets. And then the Jazz managed 95 points, the second-lowest total of the season. And had pretty much zero cohesion and rhythm in the first, second and fourth quarters. There are times when Utah has a tough offensive game, and the team will find out afterwards that they were actually happy with their game, but the shots just didn't go in. "We made it harder for ourselves than it had to be," said coach Quin Snyder. "We just pushed each other a bit, didn't find each other and made it harder on ourselves," added Rudy Gobert. "We had a stretch there where we made the game a lot harder than it needed to be," concluded Mike Conley. In fact, Donovan Mitchell didn't quite play along. While noting that the offense "was stagnant tonight, it definitely did," he also claimed that he's "okay" with most of his looks and that, well, if the Jazz had just fired more shots, they would have won. "I don't know the last time me, Bojan and JC missed all of our 3s," he said. That's right — it's not very common for Mitchell to go 0-for-8, Bogdanovic 0-for-4, and Clarkson 0-for-6 from the Deep, all on the same night. (With Rudy Gay adding a 1-of-8 performance for good measure.) On the other hand, given how often the Jazz ignored Gobert, who was parked in the paint, his defender effectively closed to a hero with little chance of jacking - ball attempt from beyond the arc; and considering how many times they've chosen to forego the tried-and-true mixer in favor of an isolation look, that's not much of an excuse. "I thought we had too many really hard shots," said Snyder, who added that the Jazz could read better and move the ball faster. Gobert added that the Utah players "lost a little bit of connection" and had a stretch where they weren't moving the ball enough, resulting in poor shots or turnovers, while Mitchell conceded that shot selection, ground clearance and passing in the indeed problems were . The team's point guard, limited to exactly 28 minutes of play to stay healthy for the postseason, said it's as simple as the boys taking care of themselves more than their teammates. "When we were playing our best basketball offensively, the ball would move, the guys would touch it and just spin it around the horn and make plays," said Conley, who had one of the team's rare efficient offensive performances, scoring 20 points and 6 out of 12 overall and 5 out of 9 out of 3. Mitchell would later say he didn't really have a good explanation for why the team's top-rated offense went sideways. Neither does Snyder, really. However, given how good the Jazz has been on this side of the ball this season, he also doesn't seem overly concerned that it's a long-term problem. But it's not something that needs to become a media back and forth. "We were good offensively and there's a reason we were good," Snyder said.

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Can LeBron spur the Lakers on to keep playing like they did against Jazz?

On Monday against the Jazz, the Lakers played with effort and as a team. Melissa Rohlin is investigating whether this is real or a mirage. (Author: Gardener)

MondayThe Lakers had just waded through a 37-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, the second-biggest loss of James' career. Things got so bad that normally sunny former Laker legend Magic Johnson chided the team, tweeting that L.A. fans "deserve more than a lack of effort and a sense of urgency." In an unusual move, James left Saturday without speaking to the media. Instead, he wrote a 10-word tweet the following night: "#LakerNation, my apologies and I promise we'll be better." In the next game, Monday against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers embodied everything they wanted had been missing. They were bursting with effort. They beat the Jazz, who have the highest-rated offense in the league at 101-95. Austin Reaves was so determined after a miss that he chased his own rebound and poked the basketball through the net like it was a volleyball. And Russell Westbrook actually mopped the floor in the first quarter after a pitchside fan spilled a drink. It all left one very important question: What the heck did James say to his teammates after their last loss? James' battle cry must have been brilliant. His words must have been so poignant that they inspired a multimillionaire superstar athlete to take on janitor duties for a few moments of a game. LeBron's promise was to himself. "I didn't say anything to the team," said James, who had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. "It's my responsibility, my own responsibility for myself and my teammates. I didn't say anything to the guys. Talking can be cheap sometimes. You just have to go out there and act, and that's what we did tonight.” Effort is a slippery thing. There are actionable moments we can all point to. Far too much effort has been lacking for the Lakers this season. Before Monday's game, I asked Lakers coach Frank Vogel why that was. If the team's lack of effort is a symptom, then what is the bigger sickness? "It's difficult to identify," Vogel said. Sure, Westbrook's shot missed. Anthony Davis has missed the team's last 14 games with an MCL sprain in his left knee. James is now 37. The role players have been inconsistent. But these things only scratch the surface. The Lakers weren't supposed to be a .500 team. Don't the Lakers want it bad enough? Westbrook has never won a championship. And James is in the twilight of his career and obviously knows this could be one of his last chances to fight for a fifth ring. Do the Lakers want it too bad? Are the players procrastinating? This much is certain: it shouldn't happen. The Lakers, who started this season as title favorites, have underperformed so much that it's questionable whether their season can even be redeemed. They have always vowed to do better. You have tried to label certain moments as turning points. But her words kept ringing hollow. Maybe that's why James was silent this time. When asked why he didn't speak to reporters on Saturday, he didn't hesitate to answer. "I didn't like what would come out of my mouth," James said. "So I decided not to speak to you guys. I understand that some things I say can be anywhere, so I didn't want that for my teammates at the time. And it went on with his teammates or begging, he just made a public promise. Nobody wanted to disappoint him. Nobody wanted to make a liar out of him. So this time everyone did the little things, highlighted by Westbrook picking up a mop. The triple-double King provided a different kind of assist and made himself infinitely more sympathetic to a fanbase that's been seething at every turnover and clinking shot since October. "I don't really think it was a small thing," Vogel said. "That was an example of, 'Hey, let's all let go of whatever we're feeling from a negative standpoint and the clouds that come with losing and all that. Let's let that go and bring in a positive spirit.'" After bringing a positive spirit, Westbrook channeled the Holy Spirit The 6ft 3 guard made a one-handed jam over the 7ft 1 Rudy Gobert quarter in the second, resulting in the entire Lakers bench squealed and jumped up and down. Westbrook then yelled himself into a technical foul, but nobody could blame him. When a reporter pointed out that some people didn't believe he still "That's their problem," said Westbrook, who with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists. That game, however, belonged to Johnson, who signed his second 10-day contract with the team on Monday. The 25-year-old was picked by the eighth overall pick in the Detroit Pistons' 2015 draft for a fight for preservation. On Monday, he made strong arguments for that team to sign him for the season. Johnson scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, which helped erase the Jazz's nine-point lead in just a total team effort. The Lakers kept the Jazz 36.9% off field and 26.1% from across the arc. This time everyone did what they could. The Lakers have done the immeasurable. Her commitment was palpable. What will stop them from becoming the lackluster team we've seen in recent games? James doesn't have to explain this to his teammates. "We had some juice tonight," James said. We followed the game plan. But every game is its own challenge. "Right now the Lakers' biggest struggle is internal. When the effort is there, they look like the team we all thought they could be. But so far this season, it's only been there for James, it has frustrated him to the point of silence. If only for a brief moment, it seemed to be working for this team. She previously reported on the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News.

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