With no LeBron James or Lonnie Walker IV, most thought this would be the end of the Lakers’ two-game winning streak. Instead, the Lakers rallied without their superstar and beat the Miami Heat, 112-109, to win their third game in a row and stay undefeated in 2023.
Sans their top three scorers, multiple other Lakers had to step up. Dennis Schröder answered the call leading the team with a season-high 32 points, Thomas Bryant continued his top form with 21 points and 9 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook added 21 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds off the bench to help the Lakers improve to 17-21.
The game couldn’t have started better for L.A. They had a nine-point lead after a quarter of play; Wenyen Gabriel led all Lakers with 7 points off the bench and Russ came in and picked up the pace, adding 5 assists.
In the second quarter, Bam Adebayo finally realized the Lakers lacked bigs and started attacking the paint. His co-star Jimmy Butler also got going, ending the half with 9 points. The two teams exchanged buckets and the Lakers’ lead was cut down to as little as three points, but a few late free throws from Russ and Dennis gave the Lakers a four-point advantage heading to the third.
Ah, the dreaded third-quarter Lakers. If you have watched more than two Lakers games this season, you know exactly what the fear was heading into the third. With the team having one of the worst net ratings in the third quarter in the NBA, a slim lead, and three of their five starters out, the fear was the purple and gold would fall off a cliff and the Heat would run them out of the building after halftime.
Tonight, the third-quarter Lakers took the night off.
Sure they still lost the quarter by three points, but compared to previous thirds (and given the injury report), you take it. Troy Brown Jr. was ruled out for the rest of the game with a left quad injury early in the quarter, leaving an already depleted Laker squad even slimmer, and Butler started hot, scoring eight of Miami’s first ten points (he finished with 27).
However, the Lakers focused on their inside-outside game, with Schröder/Westbrook getting into as many actions as possible with Bryant. They responded to every Heat run and entered the fourth with the slimmest of margins.
In the fourth, the Lakers faced more injury woes when Dennis rolled his ankle midway through the quarter. But after yelling in pain, struggling to get up and shoot his free throws, Dennis kept playing, showing the toughness and resiliency the Lakers have demonstrated all night.
The rest of the quarter was the definition of a team effort. Bryant kept converting near the basket, for every head-scratching play Russ had, he made up for it with two good ones, and Dennis closed the game out with a late layup and a few nervy, clutch free throws to secure the win.
Don’t look now, but the Lakers are rolling. Three wins in a row, and despite the injuries and early season struggles, the purple and gold are just a half-game behind the eleventh seed and one game behind a play-in spot. With a softer January schedule and Anthony Davis progressing as expected, maybe this season isn’t over just yet.