LOS ANGELES — The Lakers’ 121-107 win over an undermanned Phoenix Suns team on Friday night wasn’t the type of team effort that would normally impress LeBron James too much. With Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton all resting, L.A. still trailed the Suns at halftime, after all.
However, the victory pushed the Lakers record to 42-39, guaranteeing they will finish the regular season with a winning record no matter what happens in the finale on Sunday against the Utah Jazz.
That, after the way L.A. stumbled out of the gates in October, was something worth marveling at.
“Oh and five,” James said, recalling the Lakers’ start.
“Two and five,” he said, remembering the brief win streak to stop the bleeding.
“Two and 10,” he added, accounting for the second five-game losing streak in the Lakers first 12 games this year. “Yeah, 2-10.”
The win over Phoenix made the Lakers just the sixth team in NBA history to start the season 2-10 or worse and finish with a winning record, joining the Chicago Bulls (twice in 2004-05 and 1976-77), New Jersey Nets ( twice in ’04-05 and 1981-82) and the Seattle SuperSonics (1977-78), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“I was just telling AD [Anthony Davis], I was like, ‘Man, can you believe that we’re going to finish this season above .500? After everything that’s gone on this season?'” James said. “We’ve turned this thing around. And it’s the regular season, obviously, there’s a lot more basketball to be played. But to know that we’re going to finish a few games above .500? It’s pretty cool.”
Davis said that he and James were compelled to share their appreciation to some of their new teammates acquired at the trade deadline that spurred L.A.’s post All-Star break surge, which has the team on the brink of the playoffs or, at the very least, the play-in tournament.
“We pointed to some guys and were like, ‘We thank y’all. It didn’t look like we were going that way to start the season,'” Davis said. “Man, we just kept pushing and kept grinding. And obviously the guys that were able to come in here helped us get some more wins and ultimately finish above .500.”
James (16 points) and Davis (14 points, 21 rebounds) combined to shoot just 10-for-31 against the Suns, but three other Lakers topped the 20-point plateau in D’Angelo Russell (24 points on 9-for-14 shooting), Austin Reaves (22 points on 9-for-13 shooting) and Malik Beasley (21 points on 7-for-14 shooting) to take control of the game.
L.A. is No. 7 in the West after Friday night, but the Nos. 5-9 seeds are still all possibilities depending on how the Lakers and the other teams surrounding them in the packed West standings fare over the weekend.
The Lakers have bigger plans when they look ahead, but on Friday night, there was a collective sense of satisfaction glancing back for a moment at how far they’ve come.
“I’m definitely happy that we were able to fight through that adversity and try to find the right pieces that fit and we were able to march on through,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Our work is not done by a longshot, so it’ll be great at some point to think back, but hopefully I’ll be thinking about this the first year after we’re holding the trophy or something. … In the short form, it’s a lot to be proud of. And in the long form, we’ve got more work to do.”