LOS ANGELES - The Hornets entered Thursday’s matchup against the Lakers on an eight-game losing streak, their star LaMelo Ball was out with a right ankle sprain and Gordon Hayward was a late scratch. Everything was set up for the Lakers to cruise to victory.
However, the Lakers struggled to get off to a good start.
The Lakers’ offense shot 40.7% from the field in the opening quarter and with Cam Reddish ruled out, Rui Hachimura was inserted in the starting lineup with a lukewarm start. At halftime, it was anyone’s game, with the Lakers leading by just one point.
Besides being in a close one against a struggling team, the frustrating aspect of this game was that Darvin Ham made most of the adjustments people were clamoring for. We were getting more Christian Wood minutes, no Jaxson Hayes on the floor, Max Christie was playing and Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell were sharing the court together.
Results don’t always equate to your process but in the third, things started clicking for the Lakers. And, as usual, it began with LeBron James.
James looked like he was sleepwalking through the game with only five points in the first half, but reminded us all he is still King of Crypto with a 12-point, 5-assist quarter.
On the first possession of the third, James barreled right through Bryce McGowens for the and-one and the following time down the court, he connected Hachimura with a pass that resulted in a three-point play for the Lakers.
James scored another four straight points for L.A. and kept feeding Hachimura with the Lakers wing rewarding that trust by knocking down shot after shot, adding a dozen points of his own in the third quarter. By the midway point of the frame, the Lakers' one-point lead had grown to 12.
Austin Reaves, who has been playing well as of late and would have a role later on the period, acknowledged the third quarter as a turning point against the Hornets.
“Starting quarters better is obviously a good thing,” Reaves said postgame. “You want to start quarters really good to give the team momentum for the first part of the game… (I) always think back to when Golden State was so good, the third quarter was their’s. That was the quarter they could be down five at half but they were going to be up 10 to end the third and then after that, just compete after that. I think LeBron coming out in the third quarter and being super aggressive kind of set that tone. And then everybody after that kind of follows that lead.”
The momentum continued to build and you saw the effort and energy on both ends of the floor. The Lakers held the Hornets to just 23 points in the third, their lowest-scoring quarter of the night.
Even fans were getting in on the fun. The crowd’s energy was the loudest in the third as they banged their noisemaking balloons. The Hornets went 2-5 from the charity stripe and once fans saw the shots missing, it reinforced their confidence and increased their activity.
Christie played nearly half of the third quarter and was solid throughout, ending the game with 10 points on 3-4 shooting along with seven assists. Reddish being out with injury is a negative, but it did allow Christie to step in and positively impact the Lakers, helping them get back to their winning ways.
“I think we just played with force and played fast,” Christie said after the game. “We wanted to come out in the third quarter and be aggressive and, obviously, establish ourselves offensively and defensively. We did a good job of that. In the first half, they made a lot of shots… Then we came out in the second half wanting to be aggressive. We knew that we were going to make shots, they were going to end up missing some shots and so that sort of played itself out. With the lineup that we had and just the team we have in general, we were able to blow it open.”
There is still a lot for Ham to figure out with the puzzle that is the 2023-24 Lakers.
This third quarter showed us signs of what they can do to be the best version of themselves. Give James and Anthony Davis size, ball handlers and a few players who can create for themselves and good things can happen.
Thanks to a dominant third quarter, James and Davis never saw the floor in the fourth. Instead, they watched Reaves getting buckets with a razzle-dazzle behind-the-back layup that ignited the crowd and got them doing basketball moves on the bench, laughing and imitating Reaves’ play.
Winning solves everything and for the last home game of 2023, the Lakers ended it feeling what we all want to feel heading into a new year: hope. Hope that if Ham can push the right buttons and just tinker here and there, this team can string together some wins and take the lessons of 2023 and turn them into wins in 2024.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.