With LeBron James and Anthony Davis being ruled out with respective injuries prior to tip-off, this game could’ve turned ugly — and quick.
However, though the Lakers trailed by 20 points early in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook ignited a major comeback when L.A. deployed a small-ball lineup to get back into the game.
Los Angeles eventually tied it at 84 apiece after Austin Reaves hit a triple, but the Lakers started to run out of fuel as the game progressed.
Westbrook gave it his best shot, but his potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer didn’t fall.
Here are winners and losers for the Lakers after the heroic effort:
Winner: Russell Westbrook
After an invisible first half, Russell Westbrook willed the Lakers’ comeback in the second half. His 30 second-half points were the most by any Laker since Kobe Bryant’s last game. Westbrook finished with 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting overall, 3-of-7 from deep and 8-of-10 free throw shooting. He added five assists and four rebounds. This was the game for Westbrook to prove himself with James and Davis out of the picture and is certainly something he can build on regardless of the outcome.
Loser: Avery Bradley
Avery Bradley was a no-show during the second half, and that was mainly because he struggled all throughout the first. He finished with a 2-of-10 clip overall in just 20 minutes and was not needed during the comeback run.
Winner: Austin Reaves
While Westbrook dominated with his scoring, Austin Reaves stayed busy doing the little things. His effort and hustle on both ends of the floor led to a 16-point, eight-rebound, three-assist game in 28 minutes. The comeback does not happen with him fighting hard on every single possession. The rook needs more minutes.
Loser: Dwight Howard
With Davis out, Dwight Howard seemed the plausible choice to get some burn. However, Frank Vogel instead went with DeAndre Jordan, who had not logged minutes in six straight games. Jordan played 20 minutes and didn’t play during the comeback, but Howard got a DNP. Maybe there’s an injury behind the absence, but Howard is definitely the better option over Jordan.
Winner: Kent Bazemore
Kent Bazemore deserved another shot at cracking the rotation after falling out of it a few months ago. He sparked the team off the bench in the first quarter despite not playing much in the second half. He posted 13 points in 14 minutes with a 3-of-4 clip from deep and looked great at the point of attack on defense. Maybe he gets another look with James and Davis playing in more small-ball lineups. He certainly earned it by staying ready.
Loser: Free throws
The Lakers shot just 23-of-32 (71.9%) from the charity stripe. A better percentage probably gives L.A. the edge for the win. DeAndre Jordan’s 2-of-8 mark is the reason for the low percentage. Subtract his overall play from the equation and things might’ve turned out differently for the Lakers. Westbrook (8-of-10) and Carmelo Anthony (7-of-7) were huge from the line.