With LeBron James injured, the second-best player for the Los Angeles Lakers in recent weeks has been either D'Angelo Russell or Austin Reaves.
Entering Wednesday's critical victory over the Phoenix Suns, Russell has averaged 20.8 points and 7.3 assists on nearly 40% three-point shooting in the six games since he returned from an ankle sprain. Reaves, meanwhile, came into the Suns game averaging 17.7 points and 5.3 assists on .564/.395/.825 shooting splits since Feb. 28.
On Wednesday, the Lakers' backcourt hung with Devin Booker (33/6/5) and Chris Paul (18 points). Russell contributed 26 points and 6 assists on 9-of-13 shooting, while Reaves — getting his first start since Jan. 4 — posted 25 points and 11 assists. Reaves shot 12-of-13 from the free-throw line — bringing his two-game total free-throw attempts to 31 — and once again displayed his eye-opening improvement in terms of drawing fouls.
Just beautiful basketball. Reaves AD ball screen, hits him on the short roll and the quick swing to DLO open on the wing three. 25+ points for all three tonight. pic.twitter.com/IBFUmTcUpy
— Raj C. (@RajChipalu) March 23, 2023
“Having guards out there that are skilled makes it easier for everybody … I’m not gonna lie to you, dude is good, man,” D'Angelo Russell said about Reaves, who saved the Lakers' season with 35 points on Sunday against the Orlando Magic and received “MVP” chants from the Crypto.com Arena crowd.
“They love Austin. Whenever we can get him going, it helps our team.”
Austin Reaves has a career-high 11 AST 👀 pic.twitter.com/YslzqU1E1z
— NBA (@NBA) March 23, 2023
It helped that Anthony Davis awoke in the third quarter for 14 monstrous points. AD finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Before the trade deadline, the idea of the Lakers beating a team like the Suns — and winning games in general — with LeBron James sidelined was contingent on an epic AD performance. Now, with the addition of Russell and the emergence of Reaves, the Lakers can topple any team, regardless if Davis plays like an All-NBA first-teamer or a third-teamer.