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Russell leads Lakers past Raptors 128-111

TORONTO – After the hardest stretch of his life, RJ Barrett finally returned to his “sanctuary.”

Barrett, from nearby Mississauga, Ont., led all scorers with 28 points as his Toronto Raptors lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 128-111 on Tuesday. It was Barrett’s first time playing in an NBA game since the death of his younger brother Nathan Barrett.

“It just felt good to be back out there with the guys,” said Barrett, who said after practice on Friday that basketball is his sanctuary. “Playing definitely helped me feel better.”

Barrett added six assists and six rebounds as Toronto (23-52) lost its 14th game in a row. The Raptors’ record for longest losing skid is 17 consecutive games, set during the 1997-98 season.

Immanuel Quickley also returned to Toronto’s lineup on Tuesday, scoring 20 points with six assists. Quickley took a leave after his uncle Shawn Hamilton died of cancer on March 20, missing six games. Barrett, whose 19-year-old brother died on March 14, missed nine games.

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Barrett and Quickley played together on the New York Knicks and then were traded to Toronto on Dec. 30. Getting to return to the Raptors’ lineup following their personal losses meant a lot to Barrett.

“During the whole process, we were constantly checking on each other,” said Barrett. “I’ve known him for a long time, we’ve been together for the past four years, so it was definitely hard to go through that but having somebody like that to talk to sure helps.”

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D’Angelo Russell scored 25 points and added seven assists as Los Angeles (43-33) won back-to-back games.

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All eyes were on future Hall of Famer LeBron James and all-star centre Anthony Davis, however. James had 23 points and nine assists while Davis earned a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

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“There’s always been mutual respect and love respect every time I come here and play here,” said James, who got cheers every time he made a big play. “These fans are always appreciative of myself and I just try to always give it back to them when I step out on the floor.”

Bruce Brown (right knee soreness) left the game in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. His injury was just the latest in a series of health setbacks for Toronto.

All-star forward Scottie Barnes (left hand fracture), centre Jakob Poeltl (left hand torn ligament), guard Ochai Agbaji (right hip contusion), forward Chris Boucher (partial MCL tear), guard D.J. Carton (right ankle sprain) and Jontay Porter (personal reasons) are already out.

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Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic said that Barrett and Quickley’s return to the lineup did more than just improve the on-court product.

“Basketball is an escape for all of us,” said Rajakovic. “It’s something that players love, coaches love, you guys love, everybody loves.

“This is our escape, and this is our safe place and we’re blessed to do basketball for a living.”

Toronto is mathematically eliminated from the post-season but the remaining seven games in the season still matter.

The Raptors’ first-round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft is conditional, following a trade with the San Antonio Spurs last season for Poeltl. Toronto has the sixth-worst record in the NBA but if the draft lottery on May 12 shuffles them to seventh or higher that pick goes to San Antonio.

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The Raptors have a 37.2 per cent chance in the lottery of moving up into one of the top four draft spots and a nine per cent chance of drafting first overall.

Davis and James had nine points apiece in the third as the Lakers blew the game wide open, with a 17-5 run in the final four minutes of the quarter lifting the visitors to a 100-79 lead. Barrett brought the sold-out crowd of 19,800 to their feet with a thunderous dunk with 2.1 seconds left in the period.

Los Angeles, trying to gain ground in the competitive Western Conference playoff chase, didn’t let up in the fourth quarter, leading by as many as 32 points. Lakers head coach Darvin Ham put all his starters on the bench with six minutes left to play.

“It absolutely helps. Every minute counts,” said the 39-year-old James about playing less than 29 minutes in the game. “I was able to get back here and get going on the treatment and my prep, and start preparing my body, hopefully, for tomorrow night.”

UP NEXT — Toronto visits the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.

The Lakers continue their East Coast swing on Wednesday with a stop in Washington, D.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2024.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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