Everything has been going right for the Los Angeles Lakers lately. They entered Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz having won their last three games, and with the Jazz completely depleted by injuries, they seemingly had a clear path to not only win their fourth consecutive game, but clinch at least a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament. With that in mind, the Lakers might’ve taken the Jazz a bit lightly knowing that a historic battle with the Clippers looms tomorrow. Utah took advantage of that.
The Lakers led 124-114 with 1:43 left in the game, but a 10-0 Jazz run sent the game to overtime. Utah even led the Lakers with one minute remaining in overtime. An Austin Reaves jumper gave the Lakers the lead back, but former Laker Talen Horton-Tucker tied the game back up at 133 at the free throw line. But after a timeout, the most famous Laker had perhaps his biggest moment of the season. LeBron James bolted for a quick layup to give the Lakers the 135-133. One stop later, the Lakers sealed the win.
The two points from the layup gave James 37 on the night, which is the most points he has scored since returning from the foot injury that sidelined him for most of March. His teammates were so impressed with the performance that they barely even allowed him to speak to the media after the game. They tried to drown out his answers with goat noises.
The victory put the Lakers in control of their own destiny for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. While they currently trail the Clippers in the standings, the two play head-to-head on Wednesday with the winner taking a one-game lead with only two games to play. It is unclear whether the Lakers will actually use all of their best players, though, because the game is the second half of a back-to-back. The Lakers have exercised caution on that front all season, and Darvin Ham said that James, Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell will all be re-evaluated tomorrow before a decision is made about their status.
But two months ago, the Lakers were well below .500 and languishing in the No. 13 seed. They completed their climb up the standings largely with James injured. It feels fitting, then, that a suddenly healthy James would deliver the final bucket necessary to ensure their position in the postseason. He may not have been a part of all of his team’s recent success, but he was there when they needed him most, and now, the Lakers’ prospects look brighter than ever.