The Los Angeles Lakers continued their winning ways on Sunday, stealing the first game from the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the NBA Western Conference Playoffs.
The road team-Lakers defeated Ja Morant and the Grizzlies by a score of 128-112 Sunday afternoon.
The 7-seed Lakers went into the FedExForum to open their postseason run after securing a spot in the playoffs after defeating the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves last week.
While the headliner of the matchup was the postseason return of LeBron James, the league’s all-time leading scorer, two unheralded rotation players led the way in the victory.
Guard/forward Austin Reaves, who assumed a larger role when LeBron James went down for several weeks toward the end of the regular season, led the starters with 23 points, four assists and three rebounds in his first NBA playoff game.
“Everybody’s playing every possession like it’s their last,” Reaves said.
The leading scorer for the Lakers came in the form of a mid-season acquisition: Rui Hachimura scored 29 points off the bench for the revamped Lakers.
While James and the Lakers missed last year’s playoffs, and were bounced by Phoenix in just six games in 2021, this iteration had to win 10 of their final 12 and rally from 15 down to beat Minnesota in overtime Tuesday night to clinch the No. 7 seed.
The Lakers, who started the season 2-10, defied odds to obtain a spot in the NBA Playoffs. The team is 20-9 since the trade deadline, in which the team jettisoned embattled point guard Russell Westbrook for a package headlined by former Laker D’Angelo Russell and two key cogs in their resurgence: forward Jarred Vanderbilt and guard Malik Beasley.
Despite barely scraping by to get into a position to make the NBA postseason, the Lakers went 14-6 in March and April, buoyed by stellar performances by center Anthony Davis.
Davis was named Western Conference Player of the Month for March-April. It was his third-career monthly honor, and his first as a member of the Lakers.
The Grizzlies will get a second crack against the Lakers on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Game 2 of the Western Conference Playoffs. That game will be broadcast on TNT.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.