Of all the things Lakers coach Darvin Ham could say pregame, “status quo” probably isn’t one Lakers fans would want to hear.
Their team has spent the first three weeks of the NBA season in a total grind, consistently playing uphill with expected contributors either injured or inconsistent. More of that is what no one wants.
Ham, though, used the phrase to describe his lineup — specifically, one piece of it — Cam Reddish starting for Austin Reaves for the second consecutive game.
For now, the Lakers seem committed to it, entrusting the second unit to Reaves while hoping to kick start their defensive intensity from the jump with Reddish.
The Lakers are trying to be different, trying to find some sustainable form of identity as they enter a stretch of winnable games.
And Sunday, when it mattered most, they seemed to rediscover one.
They chased down loose balls, they zipped it around the perimeter, they fought through defensive possessions, and in the clutch they went to Anthony Davis.
With LeBron James sidelined, the Lakers looked sort of like the team that made a push to the playoffs a season ago, pulling out a 116-110 win against a short-handed Portland Trail Blazers team Sunday night at Crypto.com Arena.
Davis finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Rui Hachimura scored 19, Reddish and Reaves each had 18, Taurean Prince had 11 and D’Angelo Russell had 11 points and 11 assists. The Lakers, despite shooting 21.1% on three-pointers, handled Portland on a night when the available Trail Blazers played with freedom and confidence.
Sunday afternoon, the Lakers ruled out James because of a shin injury he suffered Friday in a victory at Phoenix.
The problem, which came on an awkward in-air collision with Kevin Durant, was minimal enough that James was able to finish off a much-needed win. It was severe enough, though, that James limped out of the building Friday night before getting Sunday off to recover.
With him out, the Lakers had to rely on the kind of balance and defensive effort that helped push them into the playoffs with so much momentum a season ago — traits that haven’t been there consistently as the Lakers have searched for a rhythm this season.