LeBron James Got Some Help From His Secondary Buddies
7:54 PM EDT on April 16, 2023
The Los Angeles Lakers have not shown the best version of themselves often this season. They turned over half their roster at the trade deadline, and their hottest stretch of meaningful basketball came during LeBron James's month-long injury absence. The Lakers make some sense on paper, yet any projection that has them advancing past the first round of the playoffs requires a leap of faith. LeBron and Anthony Davis are incredible, but can a team really go to battle with Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura playing significant roles?
For Game 1, the answer was yes.
The Lakers put it together in the second half of Sunday's 128-112 win over the Grizzlies in Memphis. James had the fourth-most points on the team, while Reaves and Hachimura combined for 52 points on 8-for-11 three-point shooting. The supporting cast pitched in as Davis did it all inside, snagging four offensive and 12 total rebounds (both game-high), blocking seven shots, and snagging three steals.
The Grizzlies began the game thin and ended the game thinner: Ja Morant left halfway through the fourth quarter with a painful-looking hand injury. X-rays were negative, but his return isn't clear yet. Still, a Game 1 home loss is a tough result for Memphis regardless of the length of Morant's absence. Without Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies were forced to primarily play Jaren Jackson Jr. as the lone big. JJJ was spectacular, but Davis smoked the small lineup.
The Lakers used James as a screener, especially in actions with Reaves, which forced the Grizzlies to make hard decisions. When they overhelped, Hachimura made them pay. The 16-point margin of victory is a bit inflated; the game remained close until the last few minutes. After Dillon Brooks hit a wide-open three to cut L.A.'s lead to two with four minutes left, Reaves took over. He scored nine straight points for the Lakers by snaking screens, attacking the rim, pulling up, and nailing a catch-and-shoot three. None of the offense was that complicated, but it worked because Reaves is such a crafty pick-and-roll operator, and Hachimura's hot shooting forced the Grizzlies to leave more space for Reaves than they would have preferred. Memphis allowed this to happen:
The Lakers' supporting cast will have to keep this up, because James and Davis aren't 100 percent and they'll need the help. The theoretical case for any kind of long Lakers playoff run hinges on consistent contributions from guys like Hachimura or D'Angelo Russell. That seemed difficult to imagine until today, when Austin Reaves was playing out of his mind and yelling "I'm him!"
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