February 23, 2024

When it’s going well for a basketball team, there’s an ease in which it operates, the rhythms of offense and defense smoothly flowing back and forth with minimal resistance.

And when it’s going the way it is for the Lakers lately, there’s only spurts of that, like a quarter-mile of paving every so often on a cobblestone highway.

The bumps right now are severe — a victory over the Clippers, as LeBron James predicted, not fixing all their problems. But one thing is really going right.

Anthony Davis, playing some of the best basketball of his Lakers’ career, scored a season-high 41 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, to help the Lakers hang on against Toronto for a 132-131 win Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.

The Lakers (19-19) are back to .500, winning consecutive games for the first time in a month.

Against Toronto, which was without injured starting center Jakob Poetl, the Lakers quickly fed Davis inside. And with the Raptors without any available centers of note, Davis feasted, quickly scoring 16 points in the first quarter and making it seem as if his size and force would be too much.

Lakers forward Christian Wood defends against Raptors forward Pascal Siakam in the first half.

Lakers forward Christian Wood defends against Raptors forward Pascal Siakam in the first half.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

But the Raptors, still riding an energized wave after acquiring RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley from the New York Knicks in a trade for OG Anunoby, started to vary their defenses. Their zone slowed the Lakers in the second, and their double teams limited Davis to only three shots in the second and third quarters combined.

And on the flip side, the smaller Raptors spread the Lakers all over the court, using quickness to slice into the lane and actually win the points-in-the-paint battle.

The Lakers, though, would go back to Davis in the clutch, playing through him in the ways they’ve said they want to more than they’ve actually done.

The ease in which Toronto largely operated — each starter scoring at least 10 points — highlighted some of the Lakers’ defensive inconsistencies, perimeter players such as Austin Reavers and Cam Reddish providing the kinds of hurdles that could allow Davis to recover and help near the rim.

It was the one thing, the Lakers had hoped, they would’ve taken from their win against the Clippers — the blueprint for success being a defense-first operation.

That wasn’t the case Tuesday,

The stops, after the first, rarely strung together with the two teams trading baskets into the final minute. The Lakers, with seven players in double figures, including 25 combined off the bench from Christian Wood and D’Angelo Russell, scored enough to stay alongside Toronto.

Darvin Ham looks on from the bench and he stands behind LeBron James.

Darvin Ham looks on from the bench as he stands behind LeBron James.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Davis, though, got a key stop on Scottie Barnes on one end before getting to the foul line on the other for two made free throws to put the Lakers up three. Barnes actually hit a triple on the other end, but the shot was waved off due to an illegal screen that knocked Davis to the court.

Toronto kept the pressure on, scoring on its final four possessions, but the Lakers made six free throws in the final 14 seconds to seal the win.

The Lakers host the Phoenix Suns on Thursday with a chance to win their third straight game.

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