Lakers beat Thunder to reach .500 mark for first time this season

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The Lakers' Anthony Davis, who had 37 points and 14 rebounds, looked on as the Thunder's Josh Gide (3) and Shai Gilzeus-Alexander looked on Friday night at the Arena. The Lakers won 116–111. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Lakers may have expected not to have a big late-season game after announcing the schedule last summer, but here it was on Friday night in Los Angeles.

The Lakers, seeking to reach .500 for the first time season and take valuable ground in the Western Conference playoff race, had one more chance to build real momentum.

Standing in their way were the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the hottest young teams in the NBA, playing relentlessly and with tons of confidence.

The Lakers blew out the Thunder early, jumping out to a 17-point lead, led by Anthony Davis' dominance and lightning-quick ball movement. He made six of his first 13 three-pointers, hitting one.

But after that hot start, the Lakers quickly cooled down, and the Thunder began their ascent. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the NBA's fastest-rising stars, and Josh Gide continued to attack the Lakers' interior, while Oklahoma City's shooters confidently opened up three-pointers.

The Thunder scored 41 points in the second quarter and held the Lakers to 19 in the third, using runs at the end of each to narrow the gap. Oklahoma City finally tied the score in the fourth for the first time since the first quarter when Gilgeous-Alexander's slicing jumper made it 102-all.

However, the Lakers crumbled toward the end, with Davis and Dennis Schroder making big plays in a 116–111 .

Davis finished with 37 points and 14 rebounds and Schroder scored 21 points, their hustle and energy on defense matching their offensive output.

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The win moved the Lakers (37-37) over .500 for the first time this season, with the team now tied for seventh in the Western Conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It also gave them the season-head tiebreaker with Oklahoma City.

The Lakers' LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis chat as they sit on the bench during the first half on March 24, 2023.

The Lakers' LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis chat as they sit on the bench during the first half. James is out with a right leg . (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The last time the Lakers were .500 was January 25, 2022.

All of this left him, once again, short-handed, and forced to employ his next-man up mentality.

Next man up means when the ball swings in your direction, even though you may have spent more time on the bench than Judge, you grab it and you shoot it. on purpose. With confidence.

With D'Angelo Russell (again) the latest Laker to land on the injury report, an opportunity presented for the seldom-used Lonnie Walker IV.

So when the ball went to Walker right in front of the Lakers' bench, where he's spent each of the last three , he didn't hesitate.


This has been the way the Lakers have played this season, with so many different injuries sidelining so many important pieces.

Lakers coach Darwin Hamm said the hope is that Russell's soreness in his right hip is a day-to-day injury.

“It's not very severe,” Haim said, “but severe enough where we need to manage it.”

With backcourt minutes suddenly available, Ham turned to Walker, and the former starter responded with 15 points in 11 first-half minutes.

He finished with 20 points.

Walker started in each of his first 32 games this season before being sidelined for a month with a knee injury. He slowly lost minutes in the Lakers' rotation as Austin Reeves took on a bigger role and Russell and Malik Beasley were added by the team at the trade deadline.

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Lakers guard Malik Beasley shoots at Thunder forward Lindy Waters III during the first half.

Lakers guard Malik Beasley, who scored 10 points, shot over Thunder forward Lindy Waters III during the first half. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Walker's first half Friday against Oklahoma City represented the most points in a game throughout March, the performance coming in a crucial game against the Thunder.

Ham stuck with Walker in crunch time, where he made another huge three-pointer and grabbed the game-sealing rebound.

Russell's injury came in the Lakers' win against Phoenix on Wednesday, a game in which he scored 26 points and excited the crowd.

“It's unfortunate, no doubt about it, but this is professional sports and that's the reality of our business here in the NBA. So you have to manage it as best you can in terms of rearranging your rotation, but we have capable people.” “…and then, you just have to go out and play the right way, be competitive, stick together and be consistent for 48 minutes doing those things. So, Again, as long as we come out with that energy, with that effort and with that urgency – there's no doubt in my mind that we will do that – and we play the right way, we can walk away and get results. can live with.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis defended on Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins during the first half.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis defended on Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins during the first half. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Lakers are getting great results from Reeves. In his last nine games before Friday, Reeves averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 assists on 57.3% shooting from the field. On Wednesday, Haim moved him into the starting lineup for Beasley.

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“He's obviously a big focal point for them, which makes him a big focal point for us,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Dagneault said before the game.

This meant that the Thunder used guard Lugentz Dort as the primary defender over Reeves for a long time. Dort, a 6-foot-4 SUV, shut down Kawhi Leonard and also kept him from scoring a game-winning attempt in the Thunder's win over the Clippers on Tuesday night.

Reeves struggled to score efficiently, a hallmark of his offensive game, early on, a trend that began when he missed a three-pointer with Dort to beat the shot clock on the Lakers' second possession. Had to side-step to force. of the game.

“I mean, Austin is a kid who's extremely intelligent and just goes about his business. He's not going to be forceful — he's going to be aggressive — but he's not going to force himself to make a bad play. He's right. And as long as we stay disciplined in our running habits and set good screens and move the ball with pace and make quick decisions, I think we'll be fine offensively. And defensively, just continue to compete and stop as a unit.

Still, Haim didn't deny that Reeves was going to stand out from the opposition.

“He's going to be a priority, no doubt about it,” Hamm said. “But it all comes down to playing the right way, and as we saw [Anthony Davis] A few nights ago, teams doubled him on the pass, doubled him on the dribble, doubled him over and over the baseline. He consistently played the right game. He did not try to force the issue.

“And that's all you have to do.”

Reeves finished with 11 points on three-for-12 shooting, but he led the Lakers with nine assists and six rebounds.

The team wrapped up its home-heavy month against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday before playing five straight road games, including a trip-ending one against the Clippers.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times,