Here’s what we learned on the night we found out Denver wouldn’t finish the season 82-0:
Lance makes ‘em dance (again).
The Lakers got a big win at Staples Center, beating Denver on the second night of a road-home back-to-back.
Early in the fourth, it looked like the Lakers might be running out of steam, with Lance Stephenson having a laugh-out-loud possession that ended with him falling to the ground and shooting the ball away from the basket, over his head.
But Stephenson got back up and made huge plays down the stretch, hitting back-to-back three-point shots and finding LeBron James on a fast break with a gorgeous pass for an easy dunk.
In two straight games, Stephenson has been a difference-maker off the bench. Expecting it on a nightly basis is a mistake — he’s not a consistently reliable player. But these lightning bolts of productivity are a crucial part of a bench — guys who can win you games every so often when energy is low.
“‘Making ‘em dance’ Lance sparked our win tonight,” James said.
In the three games since spit and punches were exchanged between the Lakers and the Rockets, Luke Walton has gotten a closer look at James with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, and the results have been promising.
Ball’s athleticism and active hands came up huge against Denver, and his hockey assists (the pass before the assist) are a great fit with another passing virtuoso in James. Rajon Rondo returns from his suspension Saturday in San Antonio, and it seems like Ball’s done enough to keep a spot in the first five.
The same can be said for Kuzma, who has been much better in the starting lineup, acting as a floor-spacer alongside James instead of as a small-ball center off the bench. Would Walton consider keeping Kuzma in the starting lineup when Brandon Ingram returns next week from his suspension?
That’s more of a stretch — though the Lakers will need Ingram to start hitting the open shots that Kuzma’s knocked down in the last week.
Oklahoma City, which now has Russell Westbrook back, blew a late fourth-quarter lead to Boston, keeping the Thunder, along with Cleveland, as the only winless teams in the NBA this season.
The Thunder couldn’t capitalize on a Boston team that’s still searching for an offensive identity, and Westbrook was 5-of-20 from the field.
They host Phoenix on Sunday and should get a win then before the Clippers play there next week.
Line of the night
Damian Lillard 41 points, 13-23 FG, 5-10 3FG, seven rebounds, six assists (34 points in the second half).
Never talk to Dame.
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