LOS ANGELES — If any NBA franchise historically exemplifies winning ugly, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies, who trademarked “Grit-N-Grind.”
But among NBA teams at the moment? The Lakers don’t care what path they have to take to get there.
There was some grit, some grind and, yes, even some blood on Tuesday night, dripping from the tip of Anthony Davis’ nose after a second-quarter foul. But the Lakers (32-34) churned out a 112-103 win, fueled by defense and the step-up heroics of Dennis Schröder, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura who each had 17 points.
Davis tied it together, as he has throughout a week’s worth of games without LeBron James or D’Angelo Russell. Behind his 30 points and a staggering 22 rebounds, the Lakers ascended to the Western Conference’s No. 9 seed, the highest perch they’ve had in the tightly packed standings since starting the season 0-5. They improved to 7-3 since adding five new players after the trade deadline and won for the sixth time in their past eight games.
“He was awesome, man,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “Just in spite of everything we’ve gone through this season, he’s been, like I’ve said before, he’s been a solid rock. He proved it again tonight.”
It took a gutsy stretch of defense: The Lakers held Memphis without a point for three crucial minutes, forcing five one-shot possessions ending with a defensive rebound. In addition to logging the eighth 30-20 game of his career on 11-for-17 shooting, Davis was central to the defensive effort. After grabbing a rebound over Memphis’ rangy big man Jaren Jackson Jr., Davis dribbled down in transition to hit Hachimura at the rim.
Even his mistakes had good intentions. Davis said his seven turnovers were largely the product of trying to make the extra pass. Drawing on wisdom he once gleaned from longtime college and NBA coach Larry Brown, Ham advised Davis that he was his own team’s best offensive option.
“I just gave him a stern warning,” Ham said. “‘For the rest of the game, if you catch it in the paint, you gotta put that thang on the rim.’”
All but two of Davis’ 11 field goals were in the paint, where he tested Jackson, one of the leading candidates for an All-Defensive Team spot this season.
Aside from Davis, Schröder was a key source of late offense, hitting a banked floater against Xavier Tillman, and a tear drop jumper off of a kickout from Reaves. He was also the team’s top playmaker with nine assists; Reaves had seven.
Hachimura had one of his better games as a Laker, inserted in the closing lineup for his muscular frame against a scrappy Memphis team as much as his fast-break speed. He took Ham’s halftime suggestion of being more physical to heart: When Davis was in position to grab his 20th rebound of the game, he was surprised to see Hachimura fly in for the board, drawing some teasing from Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt after the fact.
But hey, he was locked in: “I was trying to be aggressive on defense, offense and rebounding,” Hachimura said. “I think I had a bigger job on that, and I was able to help the team to win.”
The Lakers had to outlast 26 points from Jackson, as well as 16 points from point guard Tyus Jones. Desmond Bane, one of the team’s best shooters, was held to seven points and missed his first eight attempts from the field.
The Grizzlies have been in turmoil since the weekend, when a slew of news landed at once: Their All-NBA star, Ja Morant, is taking time away from the team after an incident when he appeared to flash a gun on an Instagram video from a club in Colorado; backup big man Brandon Clarke was also ruled out for the season with an Achilles injury.
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But with Jackson – who coaches voted over Davis to make his first All-Star appearance last month – and Bane, a draft steal for the franchise, the Grizzlies are making do with the firepower they have. A 51-point quarter against the Clippers on Sunday night signaled just how dangerous one of the top teams in the West still is.
The Lakers continue to deal with their own ailments: Russell was a game-time decision on the injury report but still missed his sixth straight game with a right ankle sprain; center Mo Bamba was ruled out the day before, as was James who was excused from the game with his right foot injury.
The game was appropriately a dogfight: Neither team led by more than nine points, and the lead changed 10 times. The Lakers allowed Memphis to score 36 points in the second quarter (the Grizzlies led at halftime), but they held them to 46 in the second half.
As the clock wound down, the Lakers allowed themselves a smile: They have not lost back-to-back games since the trade deadline and breaking into the top 10 felt like a ray of sunshine after a long, overcast slog to begin the season.
“We have every right to be happy right now,” Davis said. “We’re getting some big wins, especially with LeBron out, who is a huge part of our team. Guys are stepping up, playing well. And it’s fun to see guys play well.”