‘He was huge for us.’ Austin Reaves in starting lineup pays off as Lakers beat Suns

Lakers' Austin Reaves reacts after being fouled against the Phoenix Suns at Arena.
Lakers’ Austin Reaves reacts after being fouled against the Phoenix Suns at Arena on Wednesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Moments like this are when the season is at its toughest, pressure mounting and stakes rising. Now is when it gets toughest, when the Lakers’ problems are either tolerable or fatal.

And with the clock ticking on their season and every game’s importance escalating, the Lakers needed to conquer a familiar rival, one that has dominated matchups between the two for more than two seasons.

Facing the Phoenix Suns, whom the Lakers have defeated just once in their last nine meetings, the team was going to have to be close to its best, the mistakes meaning more as each possession took on extra weight.


You could feel that inside the building, the crowd murmuring when a turnover would lead to a layup or when a free throw would rim out.

And that same crowd? It erupted when Anthony Davis played above the rim with force or when D’Angelo Russell hit a three or sliced to the basket.

And, when the horn sounded, the celebration felt earned, a big win at a big time, the Lakers beating the Suns 122-111.

Davis scored 27, Russell added 26 and Austin Reaves finished with 25.

A day after saying he wanted his team to live in the paint, coach Darvin Ham’s Lakers attempted 46 free throws to the Suns’ 20 attempts.

The Lakers have 10 games to clinch a playoff spot or qualify for the play-in tournament, and coach Darvin Ham says there’s no pressure, only focus.

March 21, 2023

“It’s a huge weapon we can totally take advantage of,” Ham said. “ … If you don’t have an open three, you have to take the ball downhill to the rim.”

It all came on the night when the Lakers changed directions in a fairly big way.

Ham grinned as he hinted that, maybe, he had a change coming before the Lakers game Wednesday night.


“We got a little something up our sleeve tonight,” Ham said pregame.

The little something turned out to be fairly major, Ham switching the Lakers’ starting lineup for the first time post trade deadline without injuries playing a factor.

Reaves moved into the first five after scoring a career-high 35 points in the Lakers’ win Sunday against the Magic, the two days off between games giving Ham and the coaching staff time to make the move.

“I felt like it made all the sense in the world,” Ham said.

It was Reaves’ first start since Jan. 4, and he finished with a career-best 11 assists.

Lakers' Anthony Davis celebrates dunks on Phoenix Suns Jock Landale.
Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) celebrates dunks on Phoenix Suns Jock Landale (11) in the third quarter at arena on Wednesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“He was huge for us,” Ham said after the win. “ … He’s been huge for us all year.”

Reaves finished six of 10 from the field and 12 of 13 from the free-throw line to help the Lakers hold off the Suns.

Early in the game, the Lakers got mixed news around the league, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns returning and making two free throws in the final seconds to get the Timberwolves a win.

Utah, though, lost at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, giving the Lakers a chance to grab ground in their chase for a postseason berth.


With the win, the Lakers moved into a tie for ninth with Dallas, who lost to Golden State on Wednesday.

Chris Paul opened the game with Reaves guarding him and was extra aggressive with Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton out for the Suns.

He finished with 18, but he got saddled with foul trouble with Reaves playing downhill toward the rim.

Devin Booker scored 33 but the points were all earned, Jarred Vanderbilt chasing the scoring guard around the floor.

With LeBron James watching and Anthony Davis struggling, Austin Reaves finishes with a career-high 35 points in the Lakers’ 111-105 win over the Magic.

March 19, 2023

The Lakers began their push in the second quarter by getting to the foul line, and when things tightened in the third, it was Davis holding off the Suns.

He scored 14 in the third, playing at and above the rim. Russell, who also kept attacking, scored nine while the Suns got it to within one possession.


In the fourth, Phoenix pushed again, but the Lakers closed on a 23-13 run.

The win allowed the Lakers to move in the right direction Wednesday, the pack in the Western Conference as tight as ever with three games in the standings separating the fourth-place Suns from the 12th-place Pelicans.

“It’s going to be hectic,” Reaves said. “But this is why you play the game. You want high-pressure moments and you really want to play under the lights.”

The spotlight was on Wednesday — and the Lakers didn’t run from it.