In an attempt to remedy the Los Angeles Lakers' first-quarter struggles, Darvin Ham shook things up ahead of Friday's In-Season Tournament matchup vs. the Phoenix Suns at the Footprint Center. When the starting fives were unveiled 30 minutes before tip-off, Cam Reddish was listed in place of … Austin Reaves?
A lineup change was not unforeseen. The Lakers entered Friday with the worst first-quarter scoring differential (-74) through eight games in NBA history. The change itself, though, was noteworthy. Reaves is, theoretically, the Lakers' third option, and he was starting to look like himself after a sloppy start to the season. In the three games prior to Wednesday's collective clunker against the Houston Rockets, Reaves averaged 19.3 points 6.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists on .557/.375/.833 shooting splits.
“For me, I’m a competitor,” Reaves said about the lineup switch. “Truthfully, you don’t want to have that conversation. Would love to have been playing better to not have those conversations … But my parents taught me at a young age that the coach is the coach. And his decision, regardless if you agree with it, don’t agree with it, you respect that. That’s what I did. We had good dialogue back and forth on what we thought we could do to be better as a unit. And, for me — as I’ve spoken about the last two years in the NBA and even before that — winning is the main thing.”
Reaves had started 35 straight games for the Lakers, including the 2023 postseason.
Ham labeled it a “realignment” rather than a “demotion” for Reaves — funnily enough (or not) the exact language he used to describe Russell Westbrook's move to sixth man. Ham then directly alluded to a current Hall of Famer.
“We had to change up the music a little bit. First and foremost, it wasn’t a demotion for Austin. It was just a realignment. If anybody remembers those great San Antonio teams, where, everybody in the world knew Manu was a starter. But, sometimes, to balance out your lineup, you have to put a player of his magnitude in a reserve role. So, now when the starters go to sit down and take their break, you’re not totally falling off a cliff. You have balance in the second unit.”
Reaves may have been the only player to see the “realignment” coming.
“You don’t have to make me feel comfortable,” Reaves said about his talk with Ham, which occurred Thursday night. “I’ve seen the writing on the wall. I kinda seen it coming. I haven’t played great. I’ve had games here and there. And then as a team we haven’t played great on this road trip. We were 0-3 until now. Needed to shake things up. But, to me, I respect the fact that he texted me and we had a conversation about it, seeing eye-to-eye. Whatever it is that both of us can do to help the team be successful is what we want to do, and what I’m willing to do.”
Reaves has a long way to go before he's in Manu Ginobili's stratosphere, and Ham was noncommittal about the permanence of the lineup change. But, for one night, Reaves wasn't far off. He productively channeled any personal disappointment while validating Ham's faith in his team-first attitude. Reaves played freely and aggressively with the second unit during the first half. He ended up tallying 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting and 7 assists. He was a focal point of the Lakers' 16-2 run to start the fourth quarter that flipped the game.
LeBron finds Austin Reaves for the Lakers to take the lead in the 4th quarter.
Suns trail 98-103 with less than 8 minutes left.pic.twitter.com/9fot9mIsn3
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) November 11, 2023
Reaves was on the floor to close out the much-needed win. He played a season-high 35 minutes.
“That was the thing we talked about,” noted Ham. “His minutes weren’t gonna go down, and he was still gonna finish the game for us … He was phenomenal.”
The benefits were two-fold for Los Angeles. Reddish seized the opportunity and had possibly the most impressive all-around game of his career. In addition to playing as-good-as-you-could-ask-for defense on Kevin Durant, the 23-year-old posted 17 points and 3 steals in 28 minutes.
“That's the good thing about us,” said Anthony Davis. “If we do switch the lineup, guys are not taking it personal. At the end of the day, we're trying to win basketball games.”
All five of his 3-pointers were timely, but none more so than his corner snipe to put the Lakers up 118-113 and just over one minute to go. Coming off a kick out from LeBron James, it was eerily reminiscent of the shot Reddish missed at the buzzer to cap Monday's one-point loss to the Miami Heat.
Cam Reddish on his clutch corner 3: “(LeBron) told me he believed in me, so I just tried to remember that and shoot my shots with confidence.” https://t.co/4JZIN2n3b1
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) November 11, 2023
“Cam’s an elite individual defender,” said Ham. “A guy that can guard four, some nights five positions. And he can shoot the ball, as he demonstrated tonight. We’re happy to have him really embrace us, embrace what we’re teaching him, how we’re trying to develop him.”
There are 72 games to go, but the floundering Lakers really needed this one. Give Ham credit for sensing the urgency and successfully pushing a bold button.