LOS ANGELES — After their last loss, the Lakers knew better than to count wins before the clock ran out.
It took until there was just 2:22 remaining with a 16-point lead for Coach Darvin Ham to slowly begin subbing out his starters. This time, they had earned their rest.
LeBron James set the pace with 31 points, Anthony Davis helped close in a 27-point, 12-rebound effort, and the Lakers (8-12) finished off the visiting Portland Trail Blazers (11-11) in a 128-109 win despite being down two starters. It was the way they should have wrapped up a victory against Indiana two nights before.
It was the Lakers’ sixth win in eight games, and an important victory at home before heading out on the longest road trip of the season: a 12-day, six-game trek through the Midwest and East Coast that begins Friday against Eastern Conference titan Milwaukee.
If this is the form that the Lakers’ stars are in, it’s encouraging. James was 12 for 18 from the floor (6 for 8 from 3-point range) with eight assists and seven rebounds. Davis had his eighth straight double-double with 20 or more points, and had critical fourth-quarter baskets after only taking two shots in that frame when they were blowing a 17-point lead on Monday. Russell Westbrook, even though he did not help close out, had 10 points and the team was plus-12 in his 23 minutes.
Maybe the surprise of the night was Austin Reaves, twirling his way through the paint for 22 points, including a dazzling up-and-under baseline drive. His big night helped compensate for the late scratches of Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr., two fairly steady starters on the wing this season.
Jerami Grant had 27 points to lead Portland, which played without All-Star guard Damian Lillard. The Lakers led by double digits for the last quarter-and-a-half of the game.
Notably, the Lakers won the rebounding battle (58-51) and had 28 assists to just seven turnovers in the game. Both had been weak spots against the Pacers that the Lakers worked on in a Tuesday film session.
There was an initial listlessness about the Lakers – particularly concerning coming off of perhaps the most disheartening loss of the season. Maybe it was a hangover from that game; maybe it was the slog of missing starters from the lineup, but things were looking grim early when the Lakers were down 17-8 to the short-handed Blazers.
But slowly the Lakers started to stir, first from Davis’ two first-quarter blocked shots (including an emphatic rejection of spot starter Trendon Watford). Then Reaves turned up the volume with a fast-break dunk to tie the score, sending the Lakers on a 9-0 run.
After one of his coldest finishes in Monday’s game, James also hit a shooting rhythm in the second quarter, knocking down his first seven shots (including three 3-pointers). The last of his first-half field goals was a dunk on a drive straight through the paint – but James found Westbrook at the top of the arc for the Lakers’ final basket of the half on a 29-foot buzzer-beater.
Bizarrely, Westbrook hit two buzzer-beating 3-pointers on Wednesday evening: For his encore, he pulled up from midcourt for a runner that gave the Lakers a 13-point advantage as they headed into the final period. Contrasting from most games this year, the Lakers actually pulled away after halftime with a 31-20 advantage in the third quarter.
More to come on this story.