The Lakers have sure made it even more interesting in the West.
Los Angeles finally got it done against a team that has sort of nemesis the past couple of years. The Lakers took it to the Suns, 122-111. Sure, the Suns were a bit undermanned with no Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton but the Lakers have been pretty much undermanned the entire season so no one’s going to feel sorry for them.
Darvin Ham made a bit of a wrinkle before the game started. Austin Reaves, the dude that is coming off a career game against Orlando, got the start over Malik Beasley for Wednesday night. And it ended up working out.
In the game preview, I had mentioned that the Lakers either better not get themselves down from the jump or get down by a big deficit at some point in the game. We got a bit of a scare as the Suns got off to a 10-4 lead. But this is where the start of Austin paid off. Reaves scored five quick points to nearly erase the deficit completely. His three-pointer later would outright take the lead. Austin would go on to score 10 points in the first quarter. Though the Suns did lead, 26-23, after one, Austin Reaves kept the Lakers within striking distance.
The move to the bench must have woken up Beasley a bit as he made two quick threes in a 10-2 second quarter start for the Lakers. L.A. would go on to score 12 straight near the end of the half. The Lakers would have a 59-52 lead going into the break.
Devin Booker would start cooking in the third. Whether it’s jumpers (stationary or pull-ups) and drives to the hoop, the Book got all his chapters in. He scored 14 in the third period.
However, the Lakers countered with a huge quarter from Anthony Davis himself. He also scored 14 in the quarter. But the Lakers botched the end of the third. They were carrying an 88-79 lead when Cameron Payne made a three. Landry Shamet immediately stole the ball and got it to Booker for a lay-up and the foul. The Lakers suddenly only had a precarious 88-85 lead going into the fourth.
T.J. Warren’s tip made it a 99-98 Laker lead. Then D’Angelo Russell and Davis combined for a 10-2 run. From there, the Lakers held them off and punctuated it with a Reaves to Jarred Vanderbilt connection:
Oh, yeah. More on the NBA’s tweet in a bit!
Going back into the 2020-21 postseason, the Suns had beaten the Lakers 9 straight times. That streak snapped on Wednesday night as L.A. won a huge game that had play-in/playoff stakes.
Lakers fans have been calling for Reaves to start for months now. I was kind of on the fence with it myself; I thought the Lakers needed Reaves to come off the bench for energy and firepower. But the Lakers have needed that pep from the gates and Austin Reaves is exactly the guy that can provide that. And it was definitely the right call for this game.
Defensively, the Lakers are just outside the Top 10 this season (although they are the best in the league since their midseason acquisitions started playing). But they’re actually in the bottom five in terms of forcing turnovers. In this game, the Suns had 17 giveaways compared to the Lakers’ 13. L.A. took advantage by scoring 27 points off turnovers.
The Lakers get to the foul line a lot. No, not as of late; they take the most free throws per game this season. And they drew a ton of fouls against the Suns (31 of them, to be exact; the team league average this season is 20.2). The Lakers took a copious amount of free throws; they went 36 for 46 from the line (.783) compared to Phoenix (15 for 20, .750). That alone is enough to tell the story for this game.
But the absence of Ayton and Durant definitely took a toll on the Suns. Devin Booker scored 25 of his 33 points in the second half and he was nearly a one-man show on offense. Chris Paul ended with 18 points but his four assists definitely stood out. Landry Shamet came off the bench to score 15.
Three of the Laker starters scored 25 or more. Anthony Davis ramped it up in the second half, scoring 20 of his 27 points after halftime. D’Angelo Russell also stepped it up as he had 18 of his 26 in the second half. Austin Reaves had 25 points but also had a career-best 11 assists. He was setting the table for cutters like Jarred Vanderbilt and Davis. That alley-oop to Vanderbilt sealed the W for them.
The Lakers are back to a familiar spot again. This is their third time hitting a game under .500. Once again, they have a chance to get to .500 on Friday as they take on the hot Oklahoma City Thunder. They’ll even have a bit of an advantage as they take on the Clippers on Thursday night. So the Thunder might have a bit of fatigue going into Friday’s match-up.
The win brings the Lakers to the 10th spot as the Jazz lost to the struggling Blazers. Dallas also lost to Golden State in a game mired with controversy and that brings the Mavs into a tie with the Lakers in terms of records (Dallas owns the tiebreaker so they’re 9th). The battle for play-in and playoff spots in the West continue to heat up.
The Lakers just hope to get out of the kitchen and into safety with a secured play-in spot.