‘Confident’ Lakers finally see rise in standings after win

The Lakers are playing their best basketball in months as the NBA schedule enters the final week of the regular season. And after Saturday’s 116-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they finally have something to show for it.

The victory, which was L.A.’s ninth in its past 10 games, moved the Lakers up to No. 8 in the Western Conference standings — the best position they’ve been since Dec. 29th when they were 17-15.

Now 45-33 with four games left, L.A. does not sound like a team barely eking its way into the playoff picture.

“We’re very confident in our ballclub,” Anthony Davis said after putting up 22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 steals against the Cavs.

“We laugh about, like, ‘Oh, winning nine out of 10,’ and we haven’t went anywhere [in the standings]. So, it’s how good the West is. But we’re confident, very confident in our ballclub and any time we step on the floor.” Indeed, the West is extremely competitive with just two games separating the No. 6 Phoenix Suns from the No. 9 Sacramento Kings.

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Should the Lakers hold onto No. 8 rather than slip back to No. 9 where they had been mostly since late January, the difference in their postseason path would be enormous.

Participating in the Nos. 7-8 play-in tournament game guarantees a team two opportunities to earn a postseason spot.

Win that game and you play in the first around as the No. 7 seed; lose it and you play the winner of the Nos. 9-10 play-in game to decide the No. 8 seed.

“I think the biggest difference is just that we’re just having fun,” Davis said of L.A.’s recent upswing. “We’re holding each other accountable. If somebody messes up we’re yelling, screaming at him. But nobody is taking it personal. Because we all know what we’re here for, to try to win. So we’re having fun, we’re having a great time out there playing basketball, and we’re staying together.”

The Lakers showed that togetherness on Saturday when the Cavs used a 17-4 run early in the third quarter to take a four-point lead, and L.A. responded with a 19-0 run to take back control.

Davis’ contributions were matched by LeBron James (24 points, 12 assists), D’Angelo Russell (28 points on 11-of-17 shooting) and Taurean Prince (18 points on 7-of-9 shooting off the bench).

Defensively, L.A. held the Cavs to just 41 points in the second half on 39.5% shooting and Cleveland’s 97 total points represented the seventh time this season the Lakers limited their adversaries to fewer than 100 points. “Just take care of us, that’s the biggest thing,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said when asked for the key to finish out strong down the stretch.

“Everything else will take care of itself. We’ll fall exactly in the spot we’re supposed to fall. But the key is for us to be playing at a high level on both sides of the ball. We saw that on the defensive end tonight.”

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