Feeling at least slightly better about the road ahead, the Los Angeles Lakers will take their first winning streak of the season into a home contest Friday against the Utah Jazz.
The Lakers started the season 0-5 but have since defeated the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans in succession, needing overtime to get past the Pelicans 120-117 at home Wednesday.
The Lakers blew a 16-point third quarter lead but forced their way into overtime when sharpshooter Matt Ryan drilled an off-balance 3-pointer at the fourth-quarter buzzer. Los Angeles won despite LeBron James shooting just 1 of 5 from the field in the extra period.
Lonnie Walker IV led the Lakers with a season-high 28 points and has averaged 23 per game in the back-to-back victories. That compares to Walker’s scoring average of 16.1 points overall.
A heavier reliance on Walker was needed with James appearing sluggish on the court. After the game, it was revealed that James was dealing with a non-COVID illness earlier in the week.
“I told the team afterward I think each and every one of them, in the lineup, limited minutes, no minutes, the way we stood together and the way we supported one another, it showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness, a lot of character for us not to fold at that moment,” new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said.
James still finished with 20 points on 9-of-23 shooting, while also contributing 10 rebounds. Anthony Davis also had 20 points with a game-high 16 rebounds after struggling through lower back pain in Sunday’s victory over the Nuggets.
“I knew I wasn’t gonna have everything: all my juice, all my bounce, all my spring,” James said. “But if I’m in the lineup, I’m gonna try to make plays. And was I great tonight? Absolutely not.”
The Lakers now face the Jazz, who have been a surprise in the early going with a 6-3 record. Utah traded Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in the offseason and also made a change to a new head coach in former Boston Celtics assistant Will Hardy.
New addition Lauri Markkanen leads the Jazz with 21.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Jordan Clarkson is scoring 17.1 per game, while veteran Mike Conley has 7.1 assists per contest.
Despite the changes, Utah has maintained its long-distance shooting identity, entering NBA play Thursday with the third most made 3-pointers per game (14.6) and the third most 3-point attempts (40.3). The team’s 36.1 percent success rate from deep is 14th in the league.
All three of the Jazz’s losses this season have come in their last three road games, including a 103-100 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday. Clarkson scored 22 points and Collin Sexton had 19. Markkanen was held to 14 as the Jazz blew a 15-point third-quarter lead.
Clarkson was off target on a last-second 3-point attempt that would have sent the game into overtime.
“I’m proud of the guys for the way they competed and sticking in the game,” Hardy said. “To battle and get it to that last possession is really indicative of our group. … Really proud of them for digging in.
“We’ll learn from this one and on to L.A.”