Austin Reaves in the lineup has benefited as the Lakers hold off the Suns

When it’s moments like this in the toughest season, the pressure is on and the stakes are high. Now is the hardest time, when the Lakers’ problems are bearable or serious.

And with the clock ticking on their season and the importance of each game increasing, the Lakers had to conquer a familiar rival that has dominated the rivalry between the two for more than two seasons.

Against the Phoenix Suns, who the Lakers have beaten just once in their last nine meetings, the team will have to be close to their best, mistakes mean more as every possession carries extra weight.

Inside the building, the crowd murmured when a turnover would lead to a layup or a free throw would lead to a layup.

And that same crowd? He exploded when Anthony Davis made a power play above the rim or when D’Angelo Russell hit a three or cut to the basket.

And, when the horn blew, the celebration felt like a win, a big win in a big win, with the Lakers beating the Suns 122-111.

Davis scored 27, Russell scored 26 and Austin Reaves finished with 25.

A day after saying his team wanted to live in the paint, coach Darvin Ham’s Lakers attempted 46 free throws to the Suns’ 20.

“It’s a huge weapon that we can absolutely take advantage of,” Ham said. “… If you don’t have an open three, you’ve got to get the ball downhill to the rim.”

It all came down to the night the Lakers changed direction in a pretty big way.

Ham smiled that he may have had a change before the Lakers played Wednesday night.

“We got a little something tonight,” Ham said before the game.

Something small was pretty important, as Ham changed the Lakers’ starting lineup for the first time since the trade deadline without injury.

Reaves moved into the top five after scoring 35 points in the Lakers’ win over the Magic on Sunday, giving Ham and the coaching staff time to make a move in the two days between games.

“I felt like it made all the sense in the world,” Ham said.

It was Reaves’ first start since Jan. 4, and he finished with a career-best 11 assists.

Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) celebrates dunks by Phoenix Suns’ Jock Landale (11) in the third quarter at Arena on Wednesday.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

“It was huge for us,” Ham said after the win. “… He’s been awesome for us all year.”

Reaves was six of 10 from the field and 12 of 13 from the free throw line to help the Lakers hold off the Suns.

At the start of the game, the Lakers received mixed news in the league, as Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns returned and made two free throws in the final seconds to lead the Timberwolves to victory.

Utah, however, lost at home to the Portland Trail Blazers, giving the Lakers a shot at a postseason berth.

With the win, the Lakers moved into a tie for ninth with Dallas, which lost to Golden State on Wednesday.

Chris Paul opened the game guarding Reaves and was very aggressive on Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton for the Suns.

He ended up with 18, but Reaves gave him nothing but trouble playing downhill to the rim.

Devin Booker scored 33 but the points were all earned, behind leading scorer Jarred Vanderbilt on the floor.

The Lakers started the momentum in the second quarter by getting to the foul line, and when things got tight in the third, it was Davis who held the Suns back.

He scored 14 in the third, playing on the rim and on top. Russell, who also continued on offense, scored nine while the Suns scored on just one possession.

In the fourth, Phoenix pushed again, but the Lakers closed with a 23-13 lead.

The win got the Lakers moving in the right direction on Wednesday, with the Western Conference standings as tight as ever with three games separating the fourth-place Suns and 12th-place Pelicans.

“It will be the last,” Reaves said. “But that’s why you play the game. You want high-pressure moments and you want to play under the lights.’

The spotlight was on Wednesday, and the Lakers didn’t shy away from it.

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