LOS ANGELES — Lakers coach Darvin Ham sat down in front of reporters following his team’s 122-111 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, and before answering any questions, he couldn’t help but smile at the performance of its new starting lineup.
“You like the little trick up your sleeve?” Ham asked.
He was referring to his decision to put austin reavesComing out of the best 35 points of his career, in the first drive on Malik Beasley.
Reaves responded with a career-high 11 assists against the Suns to go with 25 points, and the Lakers beat the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference to move back to the No. 10 seed in the West, the last berth in the West. the play-in tournament. .
“For me, it’s really the same mentality every game, and it’s win, whatever it takes,” Reaves said of getting the starting job. “Winning. That’s all that really matters.”
The Lakers are now a half game ahead of the No. 11 Utah Jazz and just 1 1/2 games behind the No. 6 Golden State Warriors with nine games remaining.
“Obviously, we don’t want to be in this position,” Reaves said. “We’d like to be first in the league. But this is the position we’re in… So, it’s going to be hectic, but that’s why you play the game. You want high-pressure moments, and you really want to play under the lights. “.
Reaves’ inclusion in the starting group illuminated just how potent LA’s offense can be with multiple playmakers sharing the floor. Not only did Reaves pose a threat, but antonio davis (27 points and five assists) and D’Angelo Russell (26 points and six assists) putting pressure on the Phoenix defense as well.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Russell said of Reaves, “the guy’s good, man.”
The sophomore wing reached the line 13 times, scoring 12, and LA attempted a season-high 46 free throws.
“I felt like it made all the sense in the world,” Ham said of the lineup change, which he informed Reaves would happen in practice Tuesday. “And I salute Beas, being a pro, understanding the strategic part of this, and Beas was locked up and ready. He came off the bench and hit two big 3s for us and competed. That’s what we need, man.”
Beasley’s two 3-pointers came in the second quarter as LA outscored the Suns 36-26 to take a seven-point lead until halftime.
The third quarter belonged to Davis, who scored 14 points in the period.
“His dumb coach started calling his plays more, calling his number more,” Ham said of Davis’ surge in the second half.
The Lakers took a three-point lead in the quarter and the Suns cut it to 99-98 with 7:29 remaining, before LA used a 10-2 run over the next two minutes to take control for good.
But it started with Reaves.
“It was good for us, obviously, to get off to a fast start and not go behind 10, 12 like we usually do,” Davis said of the lineup change. “So Austin comes in and I think he puts up 10 in the first quarter to help us get going, and it was good for us.”
LA (36-37) hosts the No. 8 West team, the Oklahoma City Thunder (36-36), on Friday in another game with major seeding implications. The season series is 1-1, so the tiebreaker is on the line, regardless of the game’s crucial outcome.
“The guys know what’s at stake. We have to take advantage of this home stay,” Ham said. “Needless to say, some of the games that slipped through our fingers (hurt us). But that’s old news now… Let’s hope we come out Friday with the same kind of juice and energy we had tonight.”