DETROIT — If not for a Austin Reaves 3 points with 12.1 seconds left, the Los Angeles Lakers may have dropped the final leg of their six-game road trip on Sunday against the Pistons.
Instead, LA picked up a 124-117 victory over a Detroit team with the league’s worst record at 7-22 to close the trip 3-3. And the prize that awaits the Lakers after flying some 2,300 miles to the West Coast is a date Tuesday with the Boston Celtics (21-6), holders of the NBA’s best record.
“That’s why it was a must win for us, to make this win feel good about ourselves before a big game at home,” Anthony Davis said of the win over the Pistons. “We feel we can beat anyone. We are playing very well defensively, the attack is on. So we expect it to be a good game for us.”
The Lakers’ play against the Pistons mirrored their performance during their 11-day road trip. The journey began with wins over Milwaukee and Washington; Sunday’s game started with a lead that grew to 14 points in the first half.
Then the journey continued with three straight losses in Cleveland, Toronto and Philadelphia; Sunday’s game saw Detroit outscore LA by 11 points in the third quarter and cut the Lakers’ lead to just two with 35.3 seconds left with a Bojan Bogdanovic draping.
In the end, the Lakers were able to recoup a sense of success that they will bring back with them to LA
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the trip. “But I’m happy. I’m happy with our team. … We did a lot of things well. We have to improve in a lot of things. But we’re going in the right direction. So I’m very happy with that .”
Davis (34 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals) returned to the MVP form he displayed early in the trip before a cold sidelined him for most Cavs losses and all Raptors losses. james lebron (35 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) also played well and was part of the biggest play of the night, helping Reaves on his crucial 3 by finding the second-year guard on the wing.
“I trust him,” James said of Reaves. “I like what he brings to the table both offensively and defensively, and his basketball IQ is very high. He plays hard and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. And every time he’s on the pitch with me, I trust him to make the play.”
It was a bit of redemption for Reaves, who scored a season-high 25 points against the Sixers but missed a free throw with nine seconds left before LA ultimately lost in overtime.
“You always want [to] win, but especially after a game like that,” Reaves said of the loss in Philadelphia.
It was another pinch moment for Reaves, who joined the Lakers on a two-way deal in the summer of 2021 after leaving college undrafted.
“Twenty years later, I’ll probably think back to times like this and be like, ‘Damn, like he was probably one of the greatest players who ever believed in me,'” said Reaves. “What is special.”
Ham trusted an unconventional rotation on the stretch in Detroit, playing James, Reaves and Denis Schroder for the whole of the fourth quarter, combined with Lonnie Walker IV and Davis taking the lion’s share of the remaining minutes.
Russell Westbrook (11 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds) didn’t play at all in fourth.
“Guys get into a rhythm together and you can’t really always look at the stats,” Ham explained of the decision to keep Westbrook on the bench. “You have to look at the rhythm of the five guys playing on the pitch. And I felt like we had a group there that was in a really good rhythm.”
It’s a pace they’ll try to keep with them in Los Angeles for a major challenge against longtime rival Boston.
“We have to try to rest as much as possible from now until Tuesday night because we’re going to need it because a really good team are coming to our building,” James said. “But, I like how we ended the trip.”