Austin Reaves has earned the ‘MVP! MVP!’ treatment with a 35-point game victory for the Lakers

LeBron James sat on the far side of the Lakers’ bench, dressed in black with sunglasses, as a tight smile crossed his face.

The crowd was suddenly alive, chanting “MVP, MVP!”

It wasn’t for James—the NBA’s all-time leading scorer—who had to stand aside and watch with folded hands and crossed legs. It wasn’t for Anthony Davis, still off the pace after a tough loss days earlier.

No, the most valuable player, at least on Sunday, was Austin Reaves.

Then it happened again, and again and again: one buzzer-beater after a Reaves free throw that went in and out of the rim and another when he iced the game at the stripe.

He scored 35 points — the second-year player’s career high signed as an undrafted free agent — as the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 111-105.

The win snapped the Lakers’ first losing streak since D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt have played together.

Sunday marked three weeks since James hurt his foot in Dallas, an injury that threatened to derail the Lakers’ season.

Lakers guard Austin Reaves celebrates next to Orlando forward Paolo Banchero after scoring in the second half on Sunday.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

The team has gone 6-5 with James recovering.

In his most optimistic assessment yet, coach Darvin Ham talked about “when” James would return, with the “if” conspicuously absent.

“Yes, we anticipate that he will come back at some point,” Ham said when asked about his choice of words.

The Lakers have played well enough to stay in the postseason race. But it doesn’t earn them significant value.

“We’ve got to constantly defend our tail, make sure we’re getting good matchups on shots, try to get rebounds, keep teams to one possession. And then disciplined with our pace, running habits and sharing the ball. And we can live with the results,” Ham said before the game. “Bron, with him out, it shows that we have a lot of different weapons that are very skilled players on both sides of the ball that can help us achieve the goal we’re trying to achieve.

“And when he comes back, he’s just going to add to it. But boys just have to play. We have to be together.”

James’ return would be a huge boost for Davis, who has carried the brunt of the offense.

After a disastrous stretch to close out Friday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, where he missed a three-point shooter, missed a key free throw and drained the game-winner, Davis couldn’t quite come back against the Magic. .

He was split on each of his first three trips to the free throw line as the crowd was shooting in a murmur. Despite shooting better than 80 percent from the line this season, clutch misses in the Lakers’ losses have gone from a fluke to a trend.

He went 15 on 15 shooting Sunday, and the Lakers benefited from one important fact: Davis’ bad nights are never so bad because of his impact on defense. On Sunday, he had four blocks and two steals in the win.

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