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Despite ugly game, Lakers still happy to be above .500 for first time since 2016 with win over Hawks

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The Lakers made things harder on themselves than they needed to against the Hawks, but the players couldn’t help but be excited after moving above .500 for the first time in two years.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Lakers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles — After their down-to-the-wire, 107-106 home win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers (7-6) have a winning record for the first time since Nov. 22, 2016. As has been the norm this season, they did not make things easy on themselves, blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter before ultimately holding on to prevail.

But style points don’t count in the standings, and after starting 2-5, the Lakers have learned to take victories where they can get them.

“It was not a pretty win for us tonight, but a win is a win,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “Offensively, I think we took a little bit of a step back tonight. Like I said, it’s kind of the way it works. You move forward, move forward, step back, and move forward. I’m glad we were able to get a win.”

Lakers forward Brandon Ingram has witnessed a lot more step backs than improvement since joining the Lakers as a rookie in 2016, and the victory was a reminder of how far the team has come since his early days in the NBA.

”It’s good to win. It’s good to finally have a winning attitude. We just want to continue to keep going, I don’t think that we can be complacent,” Ingram said. “We just need to continue to be confident and continue to get better every day in practice.”

After Atlanta went on a 9-0 run to start the game, it looked like the Lakers might surpass their worst loss of the season — a blowout against the Toronto Raptors last Sunday — with an even more indefensible one to the (now 3-10) Hawks. The night looked like it might just be one in which a scrappy young team with fresh legs jumps all over a playoff contender on the second night of a back-to-back — the Lakers had just won the night before in Sacramento — but Los Angeles was able to turn things around and led at the end of the first and third quarters.

The Lakers even pushed their lead to as much as 15 in the fourth quarter, but the pesky Hawks just wouldn’t go away, eventually taking a 106-105 lead after an age-defying dunk from the NBA’s oldest active player, 42-year-old Vince Carter.

Lakers forward LeBron James forced his way to the free-throw line on the other end, but things wouldn’t be easy for Los Angeles there, either. James missed both attempts.

“I’m garbage. I suck from the free throw line right now. I’ll get my rhythm back,” James said.

But before he could work on getting his rhythm back, the Lakers had to get the ball back, something James thanked fellow forward Kyle Kuzma for doing both after the game, and with his actions during by seemingly coming out of nowhere to tip dunk Kuzma’s missed follow-up shot and give the Lakers a 107-106 lead.

”I didn’t see him at all. I saw me and Kuzma fighting and then all of a sudden the beast comes out of nowhere and dunks for the win,” said Lakers center Tyson Chandler, who James nearly dunked on.

Chandler would play his own key role down the stretch, as has become the norm for him since joining the Lakers three games ago following a midseason buyout from the Suns. James dunked with enough time for Hawks guard Trae Young to get off one more attempt at the win, but Chandler blocked him, and he nearly punched several teammates — including James — with his ensuing celebratory fist pumps as the buzzer sounded.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Lakers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Chandler said the celebration got so hectic that he couldn’t even remember what James was telling him as the team all pantomimed punches and jumped up and down, but James, overhearing the question from across the locker room, was happy to fill reporters in on what he’d told Chandler.

“That’s my dawg!” James yelled. “That’s my dawg!”

The atmosphere would have been a lot more somber had the Lakers blown what should have been an easy game against an inferior opponent, but after several losing seasons in Phoenix, Chandler is just excited to be part of wins again, no matter how ugly.

“I still get excited by every single win,” Chandler said. “Just cherishing every single one of those moments and trying to grow at the same time.”