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Lakers’ new starter becomes their new star, helping LeBron James hold off the Bulls

The Lakers' Wesley Matthews defends the Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine during the second quarter Jan. 8, 2021.
The Lakers’ Wesley Matthews, who started Friday night, defends the Bulls’ Zach LaVine at Staples Center.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Lakers guard Wesley Matthews reached back into an imaginary quiver, grabbed an arrow, loaded it, pulled back and fired, the owner of one of the NBA’s most elaborate three-point rituals celebrating his latest bull’s-eye Friday night.

Then he did it again. And again. And again.

Matthews, a starter for the first time as a Laker, drained all four triples that came his way in the third quarter, a perfect example of what the Lakers needed on a night like Friday.

Find your moment, fill in around the things LeBron James is going to do and hope for the best.

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With Anthony Davis out of the lineup because of a strained adductor muscle, starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope still sidelined because of an ankle injury and the wear and tear from games on back-to-back nights, the Lakers needed their supporting players to step into the spotlight.

Due to Matthews’ archery, Montrezl Harrell’s relentless force and usual excellence from James, the Lakers hung on for a 117-115 win over the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.

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Highlights from the Lakers’ 117-115 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at Staples Center.

They got a little lucky. Zach LaVine, who scored 38 points after an eight-for-eight start, wiggled loose for a clean look with less than 10 seconds left, but the potential go-ahead jumper didn’t drop and Chicago couldn’t grab the rebound. With the Bulls needing to foul, they couldn’t track down Dennis Schroder fast enough, the Lakers’ point guard able to dribble most of the clock away before making one of two free throws with five-tenths of a second left to seal it.

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It was a win in which all 10 players in Lakers coach Frank Vogel’s rotation played a part. Every Laker who played at least eight minutes scored at least six points

Schroder, who struggled in the Lakers’ loss to the San Antonio Spurs a night earlier, attacked the rim in the second quarter and scored nine points, helping mitigate the damage done by LaVine and Coby White, who helped Chicago to a 10-point lead.

Twenty-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker, never shy about picking up the ball and going if the chance is there, continued to flourish as a playmaker off the Lakers’ bench.

In the third quarter it was Matthews’ hot shooting and in the fourth it was Harrell, flying over to block a shot on one end and then bouncing through the defense and out-working Chicago for buckets on the other.

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And it was super sub Alex Caruso, who worked to extinguish White — he scored 10 straight points in one stretch and only four the rest of the night — while knocking down three three-pointers for the Lakers.

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Even rarely used Jared Dudley gave the Lakers a spark, diving for a loose ball, securing the slippery sucker and wisely calling time out to save his team a possession.

Makeshift Lakers lineups are probably here to stay this season, with injuries, rest and COVID-related absences almost assured. While the hope is Caldwell-Pope and Davis will be able to return by the team’s next game Sunday in Houston, uncertainty is the safest guarantee when playing basketball in a pandemic, as Vogel likes to say.

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Vogel said before the game that Caldwell-Pope should be back against the Rockets, while the team isn’t as sure about Davis.

“He was about 50-50. He wanted to see how it felt,” Vogel said about Davis. “It was sore today and tight and wanted to see how it felt when he was moving around on the court and it didn’t really loosen up. So that’s a cause for concern and we wanted to make sure we played it safe.”

LaMelo Ball was one assist shy of a triple-double in helping Charlotte rally from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat New Orleans 118-110 on Friday night.

In these situations, the Lakers hope to rely on their depth and the moves they made this offseason in preparation for nights like Friday when they’re down a star and without a starter.

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Vogel didn’t reveal his starting lineup until 30 minutes before the game, adding Matthews and Markieff Morris while moving Kyle Kuzma back to the second unit.

Earlier this season, Vogel said he expected Kuzma to normally start when the Lakers are without either James or Davis.

“It’s predicated on matchups,” Vogel said Friday. “But we do have that flexibility with Kuz, which is great. He’s a very versatile player.”


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