Lakers bench lead blowout of Hornets

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – It has been three games since Darvin Ham moved D’Angelo Russell out of the Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup. After a 133-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night, the Lakers are now 2-1 since the switch.

The Lakers were able to take advantage of a young Hornets team without their top player, LaMelo Ball. The Lakers had to battle back from an early 20-13 deficit before the bench unit entered the game. They ran away with it in the second half thanks to 26 points from Anthony Davis and 63 points from the bench.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (15) tries to make a defensive play on this breakaway against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 28, 2023. Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline.com

“Trying to implement such a good player like D’Lo into the second unit is good for us,” said guard Austin Reaves. “It is an opportunity for us to have a great chance to win those bench points and statistical categories and give those guys like Bron and AD a chance to breathe.”

It has been a mixed bag for Los Angeles recently. They were fantastic on their way to winning the NBA In-Season Tournament but are 3-6 since and have not looked like a true championship contender during the skid. The tweak to the starting lineup could pay off and allow the stars to get some much-needed rest.

Los Angeles has dealt with injuries and still has time to solidify their rotation before a playoff run. At 16-14, the team needs to figure out how to start stacking wins in order to guarantee a spot in the postseason and, unlike last year, avoid the play-in tournament if possible.

With Reaves and Russell running the bench unit, LeBron James and Davis only had to play 51 minutes combined against Charlotte. James is about to turn 39, and relying on him to play 35 minutes a night is probably something the coaching staff would like to avoid.

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) makes a pass to the open man against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 28, 2023. Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline.com

“I think the pros are the size we have and the athleticism, the ability to switch across the board. The cons are with different actions, not having a traditional point guard can be challenging at times, but at the end of the day, we have stuff in our package to still be able to get to some really good stuff,” said Ham of the new rotation. “I think it is more good than bad, but we want to lean into our defense, and that is the biggest thing right now that we are trying to establish and be more consistent with.”

Now that Gabe Vincent has been ruled out for at least the next eight weeks, Russell and Reaves must continue to step up. Russell and Reaves account for 30 points and 11 assists per game off the bench. Both players are capable of flourishing in their bench roles, and not overworking James would significantly strengthen the Lakers’ chances of making a championship push down the stretch.

Davis has played like the MVP of the league during December. Over the past nine games, the versatile big man has averaged 32 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per contest.

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