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Lakers News: L.A. Wallops Damian Lillard-Free Trail Blazers, 128-109

Excellent two-way play leads to an easy blowout.

A fast-paced two-way Los Angeles Lakers attack yielded a rare blowout win tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers at Arena. Granted, the Trail Blazers were missing their best player, six-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, and were playing on the second night of a back-to-back (giving the Lakers a rest advantage), but a win is a win, and in fairness, the Lakers were missing two starters of their own, as well.

With the victory, the Lakers improved to an 8-12 record for the 2022-23 season.

Patrick Beverley returned to the floor for L.A. after his three-game suspension, and as usual was terrible on offense, scoring five points on 2-of-7 shooting and chipping in zero assists. 

Starting shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV was a late scratch due to left foot soreness, so Dennis Schröder remained in L.A.'s starting lineup, but shifted up a spot to shooting guard. Starting small forward Troy Brown Jr., who had been questionable with a sore left foot, also wound up sitting this one out. 6'5" swingman Austin Reaves replaced Brown at the three spot.

Things weren't so rosy at the start of the first quarter, as the Trail Blazers kicked things off on a 17-6 run, before the Lakers recovered by going on an 18-5 run of their own to close out the frame. Reaves helped L.A. on both sides of the ball during this run, picking off this Shaedon Sharpe pass attempt and promptly galloping down the court for this game-tying breakaway flush:

Anthony Davis, who seems to have finally taken the "best Laker" mantle from LeBron James in their fourth season together, was a two-way force from the jump. Check out this impressive early block on small forward Trendon Watford, AD's second of the opening period:

6'9" reserve power forward/center Wenyen Gabriel, who along with Reaves is still on a non-guaranteed contract, seems to have secured a permanent role in first-year head coach Darvin Ham's rotations. Gabriel and backup center Thomas Bryant both saw late first quarter minutes and wasted no time looking to score. Bryant even made a 28-foot triple in the frame! The Lakers finished the first quarter up two, 24-22.

In the absence of Lillard, Portland relied more than usual on guards Anfernee Simons and rookie Shaedon Sharpe. Simons had 15 points in the first half, while Sharpe finished the game's initial two quarters with nine points of his own. LeBron James had 17 points in the first half to lead L.A., getting his buckets all over the floor, from triples to drives:

 Austin Reaves had 14 points and two assists, while Davis had 11 points and eight rebounds. Thomas Bryant chipped seven points and... three assists?

Sixth man Russell Westbrook, who has emerged as a fan favorite thanks to his ability to thrive in his new reserve role, had TWO buzzer-beating triples to end the second quarter (to help expand L.A.'s slim lead to four points at the halftime break, 66-62)...

...And again in the third: Arena was chirping, L.A. was winning, all was right with the world. 

During the third quarter, Patrick Beverley scored all five of his points, grabbed three rebounds, and chipped in a block and a steal. He also blew a layup and was whistled for two fouls in the frame, but that's the Pat Bev experience, I guess. James, Bryant and Reaves also chipped in five of their own. L.A. stymied Portland's best efforts on offense, outscoring the Trail Blazers 31-20 in the quarter. The Lakers headed into the fourth frame up 15, 97-82.

Unlike this past Monday, where the Lakers lost the script and coughed up a 17-point fourth quarter edge over the Indiana Pacers, the team made a point to close the door on Portland this time.

James was content to get a lot of his offense in the final period by drilling treys and dishing dimes to teammates, though he did score on a few drives too, of course.

Reaves, by the by, just might be the real deal. The second-year player, who as you'll recall the Lakers picked up after he went undrafted out of the University of Oklahoma in 2021, has emerged as one of the club's better two-way players. For the game, Reaves scored 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting (2-of-5 from deep) and 6-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line, pulled down five boards, dished out three dimes, and added a steal and a block for good measure. He's scored in double digits across eight of his last nine games for L.A. For the season, the 6'5" wing is averaging a still-modest 10.9 points a night on close to 50/40/90 shooting splits (it's currently a .540/.397/.909 slash line).

James, who continues to develop his game beyond the paint, enjoyed an especially efficient night as a volume three-point shooter. He went 6-of-8 from deep. Here's his final triple of the evening:

With Los Angeles leading 125-109 at the 2:30 mark thanks to a three-point play from Davis, Ham began subbing out his stars. By 1:55, the Lakers on the floor were wholly comprised of deep-bench reserves.

James and Davis led the way for Los Angeles, as usual. LBJ scored 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor overall and just 1-of-3 shooting from the charity stripe. The 18-time All-Star also notched eight assists (against just two turnovers), seven boards, and a steal in 32:30.

In just 29:08, Davis scored 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the floor, grabbed 12 rebounds, swatted three rejections, and chipped in a steal and a dish. The 6'10" big man has now poured in at least 25 points and pulled down at least 12 rebounds across his last seven active games, five of which have been Lakers wins.

Bryant finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Westbrook had 10 points, five boards and four dimes as the Lakers' only other double digit scorer of the contest.

In a rarity, L.A. actually shot more threes at a better rate than an opponent! As a team, the Lakers went 14-of-37 from long range (37.8%), besting the Blazers' 8-of-27 (33.3%) mark from beyond the arc. Los Angeles also out-rebounded Portland 58-51, and did a great job of protecting the ball, only coughing up seven turnovers as a team. Los Angeles also enjoyed a significant edge in bench points, with the club's reserves outscoring their Trail Blazers counterparts 37-21.

It's a good thing the Lakers logged a victory now, because their next opponent is one of the best clubs in the NBA: the 15-5 Milwaukee Bucks, who just might be getting All-Star swingman Khris Middleton back on the floor in time for their matchup Friday.