Sometimes it’s a quick look back over his shoulder before spinning the other way. Other times it’s a fake with the ball or maybe with his head.
Whatever it is, the result, increasingly, has been the same — Austin Reaves figuring out a way to create enough space to make a play.
Borrowing from the playbooks of NBA greats like Hakeem Olajuwon on one possession and Steve Smith on the next (he even channeled a two-handed Charles Barkley dunk), Reaves’ offensive acumen has established himas a consistent threat for the Lakers’ offense.
“Austin is just … he just loves to hoop,” coach Darvin Ham said. “Just a real versatile offensive player — he can do a ton of things on that end.”
In a game the team needed to win before it heads out on a difficult six-game trip, Reaves scored a season-high 22 points in the Lakers’ 128-109 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
LeBron James scored 31 points, Anthony Davis had 27, Thomas Bryant had 14 and Russell Westbrook ended the second and third quarters with buzzer-beating three-pointers as part of his 10 points.
For Reaves, it’s the eighth time in the last nine games he has scored at least 10 points.
“We trust him,” James said.
It was the Lakers’ sixth win in their last eight games, giving them some momentum as they leave for their longest trip of the season with stops in Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland, Toronto, Philadelphia and Detroit.
For the second straight game, the Lakers built a big second-half lead and, oddly enough, for the second straight game, the team celebrated with a fan who won a half-court shot contest before the start of the fourth quarter.
But unlike the game with the Indiana Pacers in which the Lakers coughed up a 17-point lead, they held off Portland thanks to their stars.
Against the Trail Blazers, who were playing without Damian Lillard and ex-Laker Josh Hart, James was in perfect rhythm offensively. He made his first seven shots, powerfully slamming home the last in that stretch. He ended with six threes, seven rebounds and eight assists — a bounce back after a tough fourth quarter in the Lakers’ loss Tuesday when he shot two for eight.
He scored nine points in the fourth quarter, but it was Davis — who took only two shots against the Pacers in the final 12 minutes — finding another gear late. He made five of seven from the field and went to the free-throw line four times on his way to 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just a matter of knowing this guy is the focal point and is going to make everyone else’s life easier,” Ham said.
“… He’s sort of like our epicenter.”
For Davis it was his eighth straight game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
And though five Trail Blazers scored in double figures, led by Jerami Grant’s 27, only one other Portland player made multiple field goals.
The Lakers were down two starters with guards Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. both scratched before the game because of left foot soreness. Afterward, Ham said both would be reevaluated Thursday.
The team also will waive wing Matt Ryan, who made the team as the 15th player out of training camp.
The Lakers, who got Patrick Beverley back from a three-game suspension, had to use their 12th different starting lineup this season.
“It’s indicative of circumstances, for the most part,” Ham said before the game. “I mean, we’ve had guys come up with injuries. We’ve had guys come up with illnesses. I mean, it’s been a variety of reasons and so in the process of trying to find a consistent rotation, you’re going to go through that. Especially, it’s not just me, us, having these different lineups and everyone is healthy. You’re forced to do different things at different times.”
One fill-in to Wednesday’s starting lineup, Reaves again showed his value to the Lakers, a steady hand with the ability to shake loose when the team needs a bucket.