Orlando, 4 August 2020 (dpa/tca/MIA) – It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.
They did it with a 116-108 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, 4 1/2 months later than they expected to achieve the feat. As the Lakers await their first-round opponent, they will continue the work of preparing themselves for a playoff run unlike any other in history.
“We have to get better every time we’re on the floor,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said at shootaround Monday morning. “We’re going to be smart with minutes to keep guys fresh and not overworked. I don’t anticipate that changing based on anything that happens in the standings.”
Anthony Davis finished with 42 points and 12 rebounds, making four of eight three-point attempts. LeBron James scored 22 points and added eight rebounds and nine assists.
With the win, the Lakers improved to 51-15. The Jazz fell to 42-25, still hanging on to the fifth seed in the West.
Utah led for much of the first half and took advantage of the Lakers‘ shooting struggles. The Lakers trailed the Toronto Raptors 13-0 to start the game Saturday night and lost 107-92. On Monday, they trailed the Jazz 7-0 before scoring.
But one thing that changed early was Davis’ impact.
Two nights after being neutralized by the Raptors, Davis wasn’t going to let that happen again. The Jazz entered Monday night’s game aware they needed to contend with the Lakers‘ size and length, but they couldn’t contain Davis.
He took more shots in the first quarter against the Jazz than he did in the entire game against the Raptors. By halftime, Davis had scored 24 points on eight-for-17 shooting while also making seven of 10 free throws.
Davis was also active defensively, and his work helped the Lakers through a challenging stretch. At halftime, the Lakers led 58-56.
Still, the Jazz made a push to start the third, going on an 8-0 run to open the quarter. Not until the fourth did the Lakers truly take control of the game. Although the Jazz pulled within six late in the fourth, the Lakers‘ Kyle Kuzma answered with a three-pointer.
Then, with 42.9 seconds left, Davis sank his fourth three-pointer as big man Rudy Gobert knocked him over. The four-point play gave the Lakers a 10-point lead that the Jazz couldn’t counter.
The race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference has been tight in the bubble. Memphis entered in eighth place but has lost all three of its seeding games. The Portland Trail Blazers are in ninth, two games behind the Grizzlies. If the eighth and ninth seeds are within four games of each other, they will compete in a play-in game.
The San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans also have a chance to sneak into the playoffs, though they are 10th and 11th in the conference. All of those teams have either five or six seeding games remaining.
“For me and this ballclub, we’re just trying to get better every day,” James said Saturday. “… I’m not paying attention to what’s going down, what’s going on with the eighth seed right now, because that’s too much that can happen and then there’s play-in games or whatever the case may be to decide that. So it’s too far away.”