The Lakers hold on to beat the Thunder, reaching the .500 mark for the first time this season

It wasn’t the big late-season game the Lakers were hoping for after the schedule was announced last summer, but here it was Friday in Los Angeles anyway.

The Lakers, trying to reach .500 for the first time all season and gain valuable ground in the Western Conference playoff race, had another chance to build momentum.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the youngest teams in the NBA, played with relentless effort and plenty of confidence.

It was a huge game – one of the biggest of the season for the Lakers – and after 48 minutes, the Lakers won 116-111.

Anthony Davis finished with 37 points and 15 rebounds and Dennis Schroder had 21 in the win.

“Congratulations to our guys, staying the course, being competitive all the time,” Darvin Ham said.

The Lakers blew a 17-point lead over the Thunder, led by Davis’ dominance and lightning-quick ball movement. They made six of their first 13 three-pointers, teasing a shot.

But after that hot start, the Lakers cooled off. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the NBA’s fastest-improving stars, and Josh Giddey continued to attack the Lakers’ interior as Oklahoma City’s shooters hit open threes with confidence.

The Thunder scored 41 points in the second quarter and held the Lakers to 19 in the third, making runs at the end of each to close the gap. They finally tied the score midway through the first quarter when Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper made it 102-102.

The Lakers, however, went all the way, with Davis and Schroder making huge plays on both ends, struggling for enough stops.

The Lakers are now tied for seventh in the West with Minnesota. It also gave them the season tiebreaker with Oklahoma City.

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

The Lakers’ LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis talk as they sit on the bench in the first half. James is out with a right foot injury.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Everything came up short, once again, and they were forced to employ the next-man-up mentality.

With D’Angelo Russell the latest Laker to land on the injury report (again), a seldom-used Lonnie Walker IV option was presented.

So when he hit the ball in front of the Lakers bench that has given Walker each of the last three games, he didn’t hesitate.


The hope, Ham said before the game, is that Russell’s sore right hip will be a day-to-day injury.

“Not too serious,” Ham said, “but serious enough where we need to handle 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.

“He didn’t have to worry about coming out and getting ready,” Ham said after the win. “He’s been ready.”

Walker started the first 32 games this season before a knee injury sidelined him for a month. He slowly lost minutes in the Lakers’ rotation after Austin Reaves took on a bigger role and the team added Russell and Malik Beasley at the trade deadline.

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

Lakers guard Malik Beasley, who scored 10 points, shoots Thunder forward Lindy Waters III in the first half.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Friday’s first half against Oklahoma City was his most goals scored in a game this month. Ham stayed with Walker in crunch time, where he made another big three and grabbed a game-sealing rebound.

Russell’s injury led to the Lakers’ win over Phoenix on Wednesday, a game in which he scored 26 and energized the crowd.

“It’s unfortunate, no doubt, but it’s professional sports and it’s the reality of our business here in the NBA. So you have to manage as best you can to rearrange your rotation, but we have capable guys,” Ham said.

In front of that line has been Reaves, the hottest player in the locker room aside from Davis. In his last nine games before Friday, Reaves averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 assists on 57.3 percent shooting from the field. On Wednesday, Ham moved Beasley into the starting lineup.

“It’s obviously a big focus for them, which makes it a big focus for us,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said before the game.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots as Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins defends in the first half.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots as Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins defends in the first half.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

That meant the Thunder used Luguentz Dort as Reaves’ primary defender for long stretches. Dort, a powerful 6-foot-4 guard, locked down Kawhi Leonard and stopped him from trying in the Thunder’s win over the Clippers on Tuesday night.

Reaves struggled to score effectively Friday, a hallmark of his offensive game early on, but he had to overcome that tendency to force a three-pointer that Dort covered to beat the shot clock on the Lakers’ second possession. the game

“I mean Austin is a really smart kid, and he goes about his business,” Ham said. “He’s not going to force it, he’s going to be aggressive, but he’s not going to force himself to make a bad play.”

Still, Ham didn’t deny that Reaves would see different looks from the opposition.

“It will definitely be a priority,” Ham said. “But it’s all about playing the right way, and as we saw (Anthony Davis) a couple of nights ago, teams just double down on the pass, and double down on the dribble, double up and down the baseline. He made the right play consistently, it wasn’t an issue try to force

“And that’s all you have to do.”

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