The Lakers improved to 13-16 thanks to a fourth-quarter rally led by LeBron James and Austin Reaves, who scored eight of the team’s last ten points. Lonnie Walker IV had a bounce-back game with 21 points, and James led all players with 33.
No AD meant the Lakers had to change their starting lineup. After Thomas Bryant’s season-best performance against Denver, he was awarded the starting center spot and Reaves was put in to replace the injured Patrick Beverley, who was ruled out with a hamstring strain shortly before tipoff. Reaves was an upgrade, scoring 12 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in 33 gritty minutes, despite injuring his ankle on two separate occassions. And while Bryant wasn’t able to match his 21-point performance, he did have a respectable 16 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday, including a game-sealing dunk off of a botched final play (more on that in a minute).
In the first half, L.A. established itself quickly and dominated. They outrebounded Washington 25-18, scored ten more points in the paint and led 66-52. Max Christie, who was just called up from the South Bay Lakers, played well in his 24 minutes, scoring 8 points, including going 2-4 from deep.
But after seemingly having the game under control, the Lakers gave that control right back to Washington. The Wizards started the second half on an 8-1 run and head coach Darvin Ham was forced to call an early third-quarter timeout to kill the momentum. It worked momentarily, as Bron connected on back-to-back plays with Bryant leading to dunks.
However, midway through the quarter, Reaves rolled his ankle and hobbled to the locker room. With one less viable guard for Los Angeles, the Wizards closed the third quarter on a 13-3 run to get their first lead since the first quarter up by one heading to the fourth.
But Reaves made his return in the fourth, and while he was clearly not one hundred percent, he made an impact by drawing fouls and stretching the floor. He left again after a very brief shift, but had to come back in midway through the fourth because Lonnie Walker IV also hurt his ankle, and while he also later returned to the game, both players’ statuses for tomorrow will probably be up in the air.
the lakers have upset the ankle gods in some way. need to burn some sage or something to reset the balance of things.— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) December 19, 2022
With the Lakers getting depleted more and more as the game progressed, James did what he has done for 20-plus years: He took over the game, scoring 13 points in the fourth, and Reaves had back-to-back floaters in crunch time on Kristaps Porziņģis to help keep the Wizards at bay. But even that wasn’t quite enough, because after a few buckets from Bradley Beal, the game came down to one final play, and it was a doozy.
After LeBron nearly turned the ball over, he recovered the ball and slung a pass to Bryant, who dunked the ball to ice the game once Kyle Kuzma missed a three on the other end. It was a couple of lucky breaks after nearly 48 hours of only bad luck for Los Angeles, but as LeBron said in his walk-off interview, “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” For a team looking for wins and good fortune any way they can get them right now, that last part is certainly true.
With Anthony Davis out for a while, an already small Lakers team will lose size and All-Star production. It will take a coalition of the willing to band together and overcome his absence and keep the Lakers in the play-in picture, and that unity and teamwork were on full display Sunday as the Lakers persevered through multiple injuries, a lead evaporating and won a close game at home. They’ll need to have more of that this week as they close out 2022 on a seven-game road trip. Hopefully, there will be positive news on Reaves and Walker’s ankles in the coming days.