With just ten games left in the regular season heading into Wednesday night, the Lakers started off their final stretch on the right foot, taking care of the Phoenix Suns 122-111.
The Lakers are now 36-37, and back in play-in positioning in a Western Conference race that’s as tight as ever.
Prior to the game, Darvin Ham hinted he had “something up his sleeve” regarding the starting lineup. That something was the insertion of Austin Reaves in place of the slumping Malik Beasley.
Reaves got the nod after his career-high 35-point performance against the Orlando Magic, and his impact was felt immediately once again. He led all Lakers with ten points in the opening quarter and ended the night with 25 points and a career-high 11 assists.
We didn’t get a very aggressive Anthony Davis to start the game, but he ramped up in the second half. He had a monstrous dunk in the third, where it looked like he wanted to break the rim. The rim survived the attack, but the Suns didn’t, as Davis had 27 points and nine rebounds in the bounce-back win.
D’Angelo Russell also had a strong game for the purple and gold. He was a composed and efficient on offense, ending the night with 26 points on 9-13 shooting. With reports of the Lakers having a ‘strong’ interest in re-signing him, games like tonight will certainly help.
The Lakers brought the appropriate energy and focus needed in the first half. Behind stingy defense, they managed to keep the Suns at 40% shooting from the field and held a six-point lead at halftime.
On the offensive end, it appears Reaves’ ability to draw fouls had become contagious, as the Lakers shot 27 free-throws in the opening half compared to Phoenix’s ten.
Halftime: Lakers 59, Suns 52— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) March 23, 2023
Austin Reaves leads the Lakers with 13 points and 4 assists. He's played 20 of 24 minutes. D'Angelo Russell has 8 points and 4 assists. Anthony Davis has 7 points and 4 rebounds. Jarred Vanderbilt has 7 points. LA is 20-27 (74.1%) at the FT line.
Phoenix carved into the lead in the third quarter behind their dynamic guard duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Paul was expectantly excellent with his midrange game and had 18 points on the night. Despite the Lakers’ best efforts, Booker still played at his all-star level, scoring 33.
A Cameron Payne three followed by an awful inbounds by Wenyen Gabriel caused a six point swing and Phoenix went into the fourth down by just three points.
With 12 minutes left we had ourselves a ball game. The teams exchanged baskets and it became clear Phoenix wasn’t going away. But with Booker taking a brief breather, the Lakers went heavy with the Russell-Davis combo to go on a 10-2 run to close the door on Phoenix for good.
With nine games left, and two remaining in this homestand, the Lakers are once again one win away from .500. If there were ever a time to have your best record of the season, now would be it.
Their upcoming matchup versus the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn’t be bigger. A victory would catapult them over the Thunder in the standings and also give them the tiebreaker in their season series which could be critical given how close the play-in race is.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.