By Don Wanlass
It took 11 games, but the Lakers finally put together an overall outstanding performance Nov. 14, beating the Memphis Grizzlies, 134-107.
Granted, the Grizzlies were playing without three starters — Ja Morant is suspended and Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke are injured — and lost guard Marcus Smart due to an ankle injury in the second quarter.
But the Lakers looked like the team their fans hoped they would be for the first time this season.
It started with three-point shooting. The Lakers made a franchise-record 22 three-point baskets in only 35 attempts, a 62% efficiency ratio.
Seven players scored in double figures led by D’Angelo Russell with 24 and Rui Hachimura with 23.
The Lakers outrebounded the Grizzlies by a 54-33 margin and held them to 36% shooting on the night.
The win gave the Lakers a three-game winning streak and the margin of victory gave coach Darvin Ham a chance to rest his players with a game the following night against Sacramento.
Ham has made an adjustment to his starting lineup that is paying off already. Austin Reaves, who signed a four-year, $54 million contract in the offseason, agreed to move to the second unit with Cam Reddish, signed as a free agent in the offseason, moving into the starting rotation.
Reddish, who gives the Lakers more length and more defense than Reaves, scored 10 points in 24 minutes. Reaves scored 16 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and had seven assists in 29 minutes.
In the new rotation, Reaves runs the second unit. With Jackson Hayes scoring 11 points off the bench, it gave the Lakers three non-starters in double digits.
Anthony Davis played another stellar game, scoring 19 points in 26 minutes and adding 11 rebounds, five assists and six blocked shots.
LeBron James, who sat out the Portland game Nov. 12 with a bruised shin, scored 16 points with nine rebounds and six assists in 22 minutes.
Four players finished with five or more assists and three players had 10 or more rebounds, which shows how balanced the Lakers can be when they play with energy.
The game with Memphis also was the second game for the Lakers in the NBA’s new in-season tournament.
Devised by Commissioner Adam Silver to put more emphasis on early-season games, the tournament consists of all 30 teams divided randomly into six five-team groups.
In the group stage of the tournament, the teams play the other four teams in their group. After those four games, the top team in each group advances to the knockout stage along with the best second-place team in each conference.
Those eight teams then play in a single-elimination bracket tournament that ends Dec. 9 with the championship game in Las Vegas. As added incentive, the players on the winning team will each earn $500,000.
The Lakers are now 2-0 in the tournament with games to come against the Portland Trailblazers Nov. 17 and the Utah Jazz Nov. 21.
The Lakers have a good chance to go 4-0 in group play. Winning the tournament would go a long way toward building unity and chemistry that could propel them to bigger and better things later in the season.
HARDEN FACTOR: So far, the James Harden experiment isn’t working for the Clippers.
The Clippers lost to the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets Nov. 14, 111-108, dropping their record to 3-11. The Clippers have lost six straight games since Harden joined the team.
Yet, coach Tyronn Lue said he was encouraged by some of the things he saw in the game. For one, the Clippers overcame a 13-point deficit and actually led by seven points in the fourth quarter.
Paul George had his best game since Harden’s arrival, scoring 35 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Harden scored 21 points and Kawhi Leonard added 15.
Lue continues to grapple with how to effectively use Harden and Russell Westbrook together.
Against the Nuggets, Westbrook scored eight points with six rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes.
Harden played 35 minutes, scored 21 points but had only two rebounds and four assists. Terance Mann, who played 28 minutes off the bench, led the Clippers with five assists.
The Clippers fell to 0-2 in the group stage of the in-season tournament with games coming up Nov. 17 against the Houston Rockets and Nov. 24 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
In between, they have two games against the San Antonio Spurs Nov. 20 and 22.
It’s way too early in the season to be counting out the Clippers. Remember the Lakers started 2-10 last year and rebounded to play in the Western Conference finals.
There is still time for the Clippers to get their act together. They looked like they might be coming together against the Nuggets, despite the three-point loss.
RIVALRY WEEK: The annual USC-UCLA battle for Los Angeles supremacy has lost a little luster with both teams suffering their fourth loss of the season Nov. 11.
Nonetheless, there is a lot riding when these two teams meet Nov. 18 in the Coliseum.
Both teams are trying to right a sinking ship.
The Trojans lost their third game in the last four (and four of five) to Oregon 36-27 in their first game without fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
It looked like the same old Trojans on Oregon’s first two possessions of the game.
On the second play of the game, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix hit Taz Johnson on a short pass. Johnson shredded the Trojans defense for 77 yards and a touchdown.
After the Trojans tied the score on a five and half minute drive, Oregon struck back in three plays, Nix hitting Troy Franklin on an 84-yard scoring play.
The sixth-ranked Ducks stretched the lead to 22-7 just before halftime, but the Trojans defense stiffened somewhat in the second half, yielding only 14 points. It wasn’t enough.
For the game, Oregon ran up 552 yards, averaging 8.8 yards per play. Nix, who is making a strong bid for the Heisman Trophy, completed 23 of 31 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns.
The Trojans defense won’t be facing a quarterback like Nix against the Bruins. In fact, they don’t know who they will face after the Bruins went with Collin Schlee and Chase Griffin Nov. 11 in a 17-7 loss to Arizona State that put coach Chip Kelly’s job in jeopardy.
The Bruins have dropped back-to-back games to the Arizona schools, scoring only 17 points in the process.
Against the Sun Devils, quarterbacks Ethan Garbers and Dante Moore were both out with injuries. That gave Schlee, a transfer from Kent State, his first start with the Bruins.
A better runner than passer, Schlee led the Bruins in yards rushing with 51 while completing 11 of 18 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
The Sun Devils, who have their own injury woes at quarterback, went with fourth stringer Trenton Bourget and used running back Cameron Skattebo and Jalin Conyers as well.
Arizona State ran a lot of gimmick plays that unsettled the UCLA defense and the vaunted UCLA pass rush had only two sacks.
Kelly, who is now 33-33 in his six seasons at UCLA, finds himself on the coaching hot seat a year after going 9-3 and getting a contract extension. He probably needs to defeat both USC and Cal to keep his job.
SECOND HALF HOPES: With the second half of the NFL season starting this week, it is time for the underperforming Rams and Chargers to make a move.
The Rams come back from their bye week against the Seattle Seahawks Nov. 19, hoping to stop a three-game losing streak that has seen their record fall to 3-6. The Rams could go 6-2 in their final eight games and still might need help to make the wild card round of the playoffs.
The Rams beat the Seahawks on the road in the season opener, 30-13, but that was more than two months ago. Since then, the Rams have gone 2-6 and the Seahawks have gone 6-2.
Matthew Stafford is supposed to be back at quarterback after injuring his thumb against the Cowboys Oct. 29 and missing the Nov. 5 game against Green Bay. Since then, the Rams have signed Carson Wentz to back up Stafford.
Brett Rypien, who started in Stafford’s place against Green Bay, is now on the Seahawks’ practice squad.
After the Seahawks, the Rams face the Arizona Cardinals and the Cleveland Browns before facing the Baltimore Ravens, who lead the AFC Northern Division. The last three games of the schedule have the Rams against the Washington Commanders, the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.
A 6-2 or 5-3 record down the stretch would allow the Rams to salvage what looked like a rebuilding season anyway.
The Chargers, on the other hand, had loftier aspirations this season. They face the Green Bay Packers Nov. 19 at Lambeau Field after dropping a 41-38 game to the Detroit Lions Nov. 12 to fall to 4-5.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley is a defensive-oriented coach and his defense has several stars, including Khalil Mack, Joey Boza and Derwin James.
But former Rams quarterback Jared Goff lit the Chargers up for 333 yards and two touchdowns and drove his team the length of the field to win on a last-second field goal.
The loss wasted a spectacular effort by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and wide receiver Keenan Allen. Herbert threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns and Allen had 11 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
The Chargers scored on their last five possessions, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 17-3 and 24-10 second-quarter deficits.
The Chargers face a more difficult schedule down the stretch than the Rams do. After Green Bay comes the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football Nov. 26.
After that comes the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Buffalo Bills, the Broncos again and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chargers probably need six wins to reach the playoffs and that might not be possible with that schedule.
That could mean Staley is on the coaching hot seat along with UCLA’s Kelly.