Lakers Starting to Look Like Contenders as Stretch Run Begins

A big comeback win over the Bucks showed how good the Lakers can be.
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

The shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers pulled off what might have been their best win of the season Tuesday night. With LeBron James watching from the bench, the Lakers overcame a 19-point fourth quarter deficit to score a 128-124 double overtime road win over the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the latest in a line of performances that has seen Los Angeles looking increasingly dangerous as the postseason approaches.

When Damian Lillard hit a pull-up jumper with 8:25 left in the game to put the Bucks up 94-75, it looked like curtains for the Lakers. Things suddenly flipped. Led by Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and D'Angelo Russell, the Lakers went on a 26-7 run to end regulation and send the game into overtime. Both teams looked exhausted as the first extra five minutes went back and forth. Russell hit two free throws with three seconds remaining to tie things up at 117-117 and send it to a second overtime. Neither team scored in the first three minutes of the second extra frame, but Reaves stepped up with two big buckets, and Russell hit two free throws to close out the unlikely victory.

Davis was an iron man, as he played a career-high 52 minutes and poured in 34 points while grabbing 23 rebounds and blocking four shots. Reaves scored 29 points while notching a triple-double with 14 rebounds and 10 assists, while Russell also had 29 points to go along with 12 assists and seven rebounds in 50 minutes.

Beating a really good Bucks team like that on the road should put the rest of the NBA on notice — the Lakers are for real.

Los Angeles now has a four-game winning streak-- its longest of the season -- and has wins in six of its last eight contests. Those six wins have all come over teams likely to be in the playoffs. The Lakers are currently 40-32 and ninth in the Western Conference. That means they're likely to be in the play-in tournament for the second year in a row. In 2023, that didn't matter much as L.A. marched to the Western Conference finals as the No. 7 seed. A repeat of that path isn't hard to imagine.

It took the Lakers a long time to find their footing this season. After a loss to the Clippers on January 23, their record sat at 22-23. Since then they have gone 18-9 and are playing like one of the league's best teams.

While James missed Tuesday's game with a nagging ankle injury, he and Davis have largely stayed healthy this season. When on the court they have been the dominant duo everyone expects. James is averaging 25.4 points, 8.1 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Davis is racking up 24.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.4 blocks per game. But the Lakers' other pieces have stepped up to give James and Davis legit options around them.

Russell has been playing excellent basketball since the All-Star break. In the Lakers' last 15 games, he's averaging 20.6 points and 6.7 assists in 36.4 minutes per game, while shooting 43.8 from three-point range. Reaves has also stepped up since the break, averaging 17.1 points, 6.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds while knocking down 41.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Both players give the Los Angeles dangerous weapons on the perimeter to take pressure off of James and Davis. Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince, and Spencer Dinwiddie all add toughness and perimeter shooting as well.

The Lakers are hitting their stride at the right time and the rest of the NBA should take notice of what they did Tuesday night. When fully healthy and at their best, they are as dangerous as any team in the league.

Ryan Phillips is a senior writer at The Big Lead.


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Ryan Phillips

RYAN PHILLIPS

Ryan Phillips is a Senior Writer on the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. Ryan has worked in digital media since 2009, spending eight years at The Big Lead before joining the SI team in 2024. He also co-hosts The Assembly Call Podcast about Indiana Hoosiers basketball and previously worked at Bleacher Report. Ryan is a proud San Diego native and a graduate of Indiana University’s journalism school.