LOS ANGELES - The Lakers were down by two points with 8:56 left in the first half against the Bulls. It was the final game before the infamous Grammy trip where the Lakers make room for music's biggest stars to occupy their arena and the city of Los Angeles.
With the Lakers needing an offensive boost, the supporting players took the initiative and dominated.
It started with a D'Angelo Russell three from the wing, then Jarred Vanderbilt deflected a pass and took it to the house, ending with a dunk. After a bucket by Chicago's Coby White, LeBron James retaliated with a triple of his own and Austin Reaves put the finishing touch on the 13-2 run to give L.A. a double-digit lead.
The team had a sloppy fourth quarter, but it was relatively smooth sailing after that second-quarter scoring outburst.
D'Angelo Russell, who seems to one-up every Grade A performance with another, outdid himself again on Thursday, hitting eight 3-pointers, tying his career-best.
“I have a lot of fun out there,” Russel said postgame. “Whenever I’m making shots like that, I have a lot of fun doing it. So, trying to showcase it. It’s contagious. I think everybody kind of starts shooting with that confidence a little bit. It just makes us that much harder to guard. My confidence is through the roof right now and I’m going to keep it there. It’s always good to have that.”
It wasn't just Russell that played well. Vanderbilt had himself a game, too.
“How about Vando, tonight,” Russell proclaimed during his postgame presser. “You all got to talk about Vando whenever y’all tweet and all that. Whenever you all tweet, though, man, make sure you give Vando some love. He played his a-- off.”
The defensive stalwart was everywhere Thursday night, agitating whoever he guarded. In the second quarter, he took on White at the top of the key, stayed with him as he drove to the basket and stuffed him with authority at the rim.
The Bulls still had 3.5 seconds left on the shot clock, but Vanderbilt wasn't done. He contested a DeMar Derozan corner three, which hit the rim and James ultimately grabbed the rebound, slamming the ball on the court as he came down with it in satisfaction of a good defensive possession.
It was just one block, but those are the kinds of plays that galvanize your team and devastate the opponent.
The Lakers cruised to a 141-132 win and it was a reminder of how good this team could be when they are close to full health. Vanderbilt has only played in 25 games and Rui Hachimura, who had 10 points on 3-3 shooting, also has missed significant time with multiple injuries.
Are these players of the caliber of James or Anthony Davis? Of course not but they impact winning and are critical cogs in the Lakers machine. Their size and offensive and defensive versatility are irreplaceable. The wing position is the most important role in the NBA and when one or both are gone, this team is worse off.
With most of the core intact Thursday and the team dominating, maybe it's time to do something Los Angeles isn't known for: patience.
They currently sit at ninth in the standings and with proof of concept last season after reaching the Western Conference Finals, maybe the best thing to do is not reach for another guard like Dejounte Murray.
Perhaps all the Lakers need to do is dance with the ones that brought them here. Empower Russell to continue being aggressive, give Hachimura and Vanderbilt as much time with the stars and starters as possible and focus on the next team more than the next trade.
There's a good team in here. This team has shown flashes of brilliance before, like during their In-Season Tournament run and we saw another example Thursday night.
The Lakers will return to Los Angeles on trade deadline day, Feb. 8, with the roster they'll essentially stay with the rest of the year; they'll have a Kobe Bryant statue to unveil and the defending champion Denver Nuggets to play as we inch closer to the All-Star break and the final stretch of the season.
Against the Bulls, the players made the case that the team and roster that should be present to take on all those challenges is already here.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.