LOS ANGELES — For the first 14 games of the season, every night felt like a dogfight for the Lakers. They always seemed to be battling uphill, even in the games they won.
A dominating 123-92 win over the San Antonio Spurs – losers of 10 of their last 11 games – isn’t going to surprise anyone. But it had to register as progress for the Lakers (5-10), who hadn’t dominated any of their NBA peers before Sunday night.
“It feels good to get a convincing win,” Anthony Davis said, in what might be one of the biggest understatements of the season.
Davis was nigh unguardable against a front court without solid big man Jakob Poeltl, cutting into the lane for baskets that might as well have been uncontested while racking up a 30-point, 18-rebound double-double (his fourth straight). Russell Westbrook and Lonnie Walker IV (a former Spur himself) outpaced their defenders, and as a team the Lakers racked up 29 assists to 15 turnovers.
Even the Lakers’ season-long struggles in the third quarter didn’t appear against the Spurs: They trounced their visitors 29-19 in the frame where they’ve nearly always dipped. Entering Sunday night, the Lakers’ biggest lead was 18 points, but they led the Spurs by as much as 34 – the second half was never in doubt.
The best part of the win? The Lakers get San Antonio twice more at the end of the week on Friday and Saturday, giving some credence that a difference-making winning streak might actually be around the corner for a team that started 2-10.
“I mean, it’s great. I’d be lying to myself and everybody if I said it didn’t feel good,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “A night like tonight, it just helps push us further down the road in how we’re establishing our identity and how we want to play, again, on both sides of the ball. And to have positive results now three games in a row.”
The biggest factor in the Lakers three consecutive wins so far has been Davis, who continued his own streak of 30 or more points with a fourth-quarter dunk that pushed him over the top. It is his first such scoring streak since March 2020 – since then he’s heard near-constant calls to be more aggressive on the offensive end.
With LeBron James sidelined, Davis has bought into being that focal point, attacking a hapless San Antonio defense that gave up 60 points in the paint. He also has been a rebounding machine for the heretofore undersized Lakers, who bested the Spurs by 10 on the glass.
“It’s big for us, miss or make, when he’s being aggressive in the paint,” Westbrook said of Davis. “It makes us a different team.”
But even without Davis, size wasn’t much of an issue. In just his second game back from thumb surgery, Thomas Bryant was a nifty 5 for 5 from the field, proving a capable running partner for Westbrook, who had 10 assists to go with 10 points. Bryant’s 15 points paced a bench that outscored their San Antonio counterparts 53-34.
Seven players finished in double figures in all.
The Spurs were down Poeltl, but were missing another critical figure: coach Gregg Popovich. The 73-year-old coach was a late scratch with an illness, leaving assistant coach Brett Brown to stand in on the sideline.
No Spur scored more than Devin Vassell’s 17 points. In a particularly one-sided stretch to open the third quarter, the Spurs missed their first 12 attempts from the field, not scoring until the 4:28 mark of the period.
When James comes back, the Lakers will have to adjust the starting lineup which has now gone 3-0. But Austin Reaves made a solid case to remain a starter, scoring a season-high 21 points on 7 for 11 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
While Ham offered a terse “we’ll see” when asked if Reaves would continue to start, he had no problem lavishing praise on the second-year swingman who has gradually become one of the team’s most dynamic role players.
“Austin has been way more efficient in terms of not wasting any time, wasting any dribbles, just getting to it,” Ham said. “Getting to the next second-side actions, third-side actions. He’s been one of our best playmakers. And he just loves to hoop. You can see his passion shine through whenever he’s out there.”
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they didn’t escape completely unscathed. Westbrook injured his left thumb late. The team said an X-ray at the arena showed no sign of fracture, but the 34-year-old guard is scheduled to be reevaluated Monday morning.
The Lakers have a road heavy schedule approaching, with Phoenix on tap Tuesday before spending Thanksgiving weekend in Texas. Nine of the Lakers’ next 11 games are on the road.
“I think everybody’s confidence is very high while not getting too high,” Davis said. “Going into Phoenix to start the trip will be a good test for us. … We want to start the road trip off with a W.”