LOS ANGELES — In light of the trade deadline being two weeks away, Lakers coach Darvin Ham was asked a direct, yet simple question ahead of his team’s 141-132 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
“Do you have a championship-contending team in your locker room?” a reporter asked Ham. “Or do you think you need help?”
Ham responded: “I mean, anytime there’s availability to get better, you have to do your due diligence. We’ve shown that we can definitely play at a high level when we have guys available. When we all come together and we’re all on the same page, the sky’s the limit. We just, we can’t play fantasy basketball.
“But that said, I have all the faith and confidence in the world, when we’re healthy and we’re playing the right way, we’re competing at a high level defensively, sharing the ball offensively, sky’s the limit.”
And for a 12-minute stretch between the second and third quarters, the Lakers (23-23) showed just how high they can soar when it’s all clicking.
Jarred Vanderbilt (season-high 17 points in 27 minutes off the bench) wreaked havoc defensively, diving for loose balls, creating deflections, disrupting the Bulls’ rhythm and helping the Lakers turn defense into offense. He was a catalyst for the Lakers’ 12-0 run to close out the second, taking a 73-57 lead into halftime. D’Angelo Russell continued his hot streak, scoring 17 of his 29 points in the third to help give the Lakers a game-best 24-point lead (110-86) late in the quarter.
The Lakers didn’t need otherworldly performances from LeBron James (25 points, 12 assists) or Anthony Davis (22 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) to score the most points they’ve had in a game this season. They shot 60.9% from the field to win for the fourth time in six games, their collective contributions allowing them to end this lengthy homestand on a high note.
And that’s what the hope was for this team when they prioritized continuity and constructed the roster the way they did during the offseason.
But just like they showed what the high end for this team can be, within the same game they also showed what it looks like when they don’t perform at the level they’re capable of.
And how their struggles with consistency have had them hovering around .500 for the last month.
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The Lakers allowed the Bulls (21-25) to hang around. Chicago scored 75 second-half points and cut its deficit to eight late in the fourth quarter before the Lakers sealed the victory.
They were led by DeMar DeRozan’s 32 points and 10 assists and Coby White’s 25 points. Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and former Laker Alex Caruso scored 17.
Austin Reaves contributed 20 points and eight assists for the Lakers, while Rui Hachimura added 10 points off the bench. Although Russell didn’t score in the fourth, he finished one shy of his career-high in 3-pointers, and he continued to complicate the Lakers’ decisions on his future with another outstanding game ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
The Lakers ended their broken up homestand 6-4 – 6-5 including Tuesday’s “road” loss to the Clippers.
They’ll start their six-game “Grammy” road trip on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors.
More to come on this story.