April 18, 2024

The Lakers are kind of stuck between two desires, two plans of action for the last two weeks of the regular season.

On one hand, their run of good play over the last two months and a favorable closing schedule has given them a chance to play their way out of the back end of the NBA’s play-in tournament.

Continuing to win is the pathway to providing more cushion than a scenario where a single loss would end their season.

But there’s another factor at play — the health of the team and, in particular, its stars.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both able to play Tuesday in the Lakers’ 128-111 win, but with the second of back-to-back games against the Wizards on Wednesday in Washington, and consecutive games against Cleveland and Minnesota when they return home, workloads are on their minds.

“The constant battle for positioning and trying to secure a spot dictates circumstances,” coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “And so, there’s times where you want to rest them and that’s why it’s so key that we take care of the ball, we take care of the glass and defensive rebound, to build leads and sustain leads so then we can try to have the best of both worlds in terms of our guys that are gonna play.

“Again, they know how important of a stretch this is. So they want to be involved in the mix. But also, when we have our opportunities and we have a tight grip on the game, so to speak, we gotta be able to sustain it.”

Tuesday couldn’t have gone better.

The Lakers dominated in the second half, allowing the starters to watch from the bench after relatively light nights.

James scored 23, following up his three-point barrage in Brooklyn with a pain-focused 10-for-12 shooting performance. Davis had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and D’Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 25 points and seven made threes — helping push the lead to unreachable distances in the second half.

Ham said he thought Davis and James would play tomorrow against the Wizards, while both Ham and James qualified by saying they’d see how he felt in the morning.

“Every minute counts,” James said.

Russell is the only starter who played more than 30 minutes.

“You get an opportunity like that, you can’t let go of the rope,” Ham said after. “Everyone that’s coming, substituting, just picking up where the last guy left off. Getting stops, getting rebounds, playing with pace, moving the ball, not turning it over. That was the key. Just getting shots at the rim. And had a lot of guys see something go in and it afforded us an opportunity to rest our big guys.”

The Lakers’ reserves, who scored only two points against the Nets on Sunday, played much better Tuesday. Spencer Dinwiddie made three three-pointers and Taurean Prince added a pair from deep. Max Christie returned to the rotation because Gabe Vincent (knee injury management) and Cam Reddish (personal reasons) were unavailable, and he responded with one of his best games of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Jaxson Hayes, who sat out Sunday’s game, put the finishing touches on Toronto with a between-the-legs dunk in transition in the fourth quarter.

“It was great,” James said. “He gets a 10, because it was in-game. Not many guys in league history have done it. So, it was rare. So, pretty cool.”

The Lakers are now a season-best 10 games over .500 with six left to play.

“It’s about us,” Ham said. “We’ve got to take care of us in terms of our style of play, having a defensive identity. Like we mentioned at halftime, having that individual pride on the ball. Sharing the ball offensively. And just trying to finetune the way we play on both sides of the ball. And whoever our opponent is, that’s our opponent for the night. Again. us, creating that foundation and sustaining playing on both sides of the ball at a very high level.”

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