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.
Read more: Inside the Lakers’ decision to move Austin Reaves to the second unit
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.
“It’s Anthony Davis. Anytime he gets on the floor — obviously, never want to have anyone out, especially Bron — but anytime you’ve got Anthony Davis, you’ve got a chance,” Reaves said. “Changes the game in so many different ways the stat sheet doesn’t even show.”
The Lakers, despite shooting 21.1% on three-pointers, handed Portland a loss on a night when the available Trail Blazers played with confidence.
“Guys are still figuring out their rhythms in terms of the synergy with one another, each other’s tendencies and habitsm,” Ham said after the game. “We’re encouraging our guys, ‘If you’re open, shoot it. If there’s a better play to be made, then make that play.’ But that’ll come. … The biggest thing that you can do in the meantime, though, is be good defensively.”
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.
Read more: Lakers defeat the Suns for first road win of the season
“As we get more comfortable and familiar with one another, as we continue to plant the seeds and water them, I think you’ll see the growth here pretty soon,” Ham said. “You’re already seeing flashes of it, albeit different guys [have] been missing out the lineup at various times. But just the core belief of the way we have to play in order to win games, and it all starts on the defensive end.”
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.