On Wednesday, the Lakers notched a much-needed win against the Phoenix Suns, 122-111, at the Crypto.com Arena. The Western Conference remains a tight race as teams enter the final stretch with nine games left in the regular season. The Lakers are now 36-37 and one win away from .500. With this win, the Lakers are tied for ninth place with the Dallas Mavericks.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham hinted that a change was coming before Wednesday’s matchup. The surprise – the lineup changed, inserting guard Austin Reaves into the starting five. The outstanding offensive play of Reaves continues to fuel the Lakers as LeBron James remains out with an injured right foot.
“He’s [Reaves is] in a great space right now, feeling his game, just locked into what we’re trying to accomplish. And I just felt like it made sense in the world to start him,” Ham said, discussing his reason for starting Reaves.
Anthony Davis scored 27 points, had nine rebounds, and 10-18 FG. In the third quarter, Davis scored 14 points in 11 minutes. The play of Davis and the aggressive play of guards Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell provided the spark the team needed to finish strong. Reaves ended the night with a career-high of 11 assists, 25 points, and (12-13 FT). D’Angelo Russell contributed 26 points on 9-13 shooting.
“[Davis] dominated,” Russell said. “Dominant .… And he dominated from inside, outside. They were sending the double on the dribble. He was going fast. He was getting to the free-throw line. He just dominated the game, and you all saw it [from the] front row.”
The Lakers won by 11 and took advantage of stronger play in the paint resulting in a season-high 46 free throws, with Reaves shooting 13 of those shots. Laker’s coach Ham encouraged Davis to live in the paint and laid the expectation that Davis would find the rim more often:
“He and I have talked, and I told him, ‘I’m going to force feed [you], man, and just be aggressive. Don’t even worry about it. Just be aggressive going to the rim,'” Ham said. “And he did that tonight. He had a swagger about him. He wasn’t settling.
Without Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton, the Sun’s leader Devin Booker continued his efficient play with 33 points (11-16 FG) and six rebounds. He shot 69% from the field. Chris Paul contributed 18 points (8-17 FG) and four rebounds.
The Suns have lost the last five-of-six games and are 38-34 on the season. Head coach Monty Williams expressed frustration at the disparities between the two teams’ free throw shooting. The Suns shot 20 free throws during the night.
“When do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team? That’s not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It’s happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same calls. I’m tired of it. It’s old.”
Despite the loss, the Suns remain in fourth place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers and two-and-half games ahead of the Lakers. Next up for the Lakers is the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday at the Crypto.com Arena. According to TNT, “LeBron James hopes to make his return for the final games of the 2022-2023 season.”