5 steps that led the Lakers to a win over Warriors and the Western Conference Finals

The Los Angeles Lakers slayed the Golden State Warriors, 122-101, on Friday at Crypto.com Arena to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The triumphant victory was a culmination of a dramatic year of organizational changes and on-the-fly reconstruction around a team that began the 2022-23 NBA season by losing 10 of their first 12 games.

Postgame, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Darvin Ham, D’Angelo Russell, and others credited the midseason moves for sparking the historically improbable turnaround, although the Lakers’ defeat of the defending champs was equally due to contributions from pre-deadline holdovers — including the superstars, the rookie coach, the kid from Arkansas, and the feisty point guard on his second go-round with the franchise.

Let’s break down how the Lakers ultimately got here.

Step 1: Hiring Darvin Ham

On June 3, 2022, the Lakers tapped Ham to be the 28th head coach in franchise history. Ham’s NBA coaching journey began as an assistant for the Lakers in 2012. He then spent a decade as a key assistant for the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

“I think sky’s the limit,” Ham said in his intro presser. “We’re not putting a ceiling on our situation,”

Turns out, Ham was the perfect dude for the gig. The culture of trust, effort, and accountability he instantly engendered has tangibly impacted the on-court product from the jump — even before the roster changes and the winning. He stayed positive through choppy waters and steered the ship once the sailing got smooth.

Look no further than Game 4, which Steve Kerr acknowledged was the turning point of the series. Lonnie Walker IV, whom Ham was forced to boot from the rotation post-deadline, stayed ready and scored 15 fourth-quarter points.

“It’s been a challenging year, to say the least,” Ham said after Game 6. “But…we kept powering through. Our vibes stayed positive. Once we righted the ship and switched out some pieces, we came together … I’m just happy and thankful I can sit in this seat and enjoy the ride.”

“He was genuinely happy to be at work every day,” noted Austin Reaves, “even when we were 2-10.”

Step 2: Bringing back Dennis Schroder

Following a bumpy 2020-21 stint in Los Angeles and a humbling 2021-22 season, Dennis crushed it at EuroBasket and earned a one-year deal from the Lakers in September. Whether due to his love for Ham dating back to their Atlanta days, his motivation to make amends in Los Angeles (both topics he’s addressed multiple times), or simply a more appropriate role as a defense-first energizer, Schroder has been a rock for the Lakers.

His tenacity, toughness, and throwback point guard play — orchestrate first, shoot when it’s there — has been foundational to the team’s success.

In the biggest game of the season, Ham inserted Schroder — who led the Lakers in net rating and plus/minus in the series — into the starting lineup. It worked. The Lakers got off to a blazing start while Schroder hounded Steph into 3-for-10 shooting early on.

Dennis the Menace ended up getting unfairly, yet fittingly, ejected for riling up Draymond Green, but the tone was set, nonetheless.

Ham lauded a bunch of Lakers in his postgame speech, but first called out Dennis for setting the tonepic.twitter.com/Jf4MxiedjL https://t.co/GY9tScewHV

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) May 13, 2023


Step 3: Letting Austin cook

Reaves’ rise from an undrafted free agent from rural Arkansas into the Los Angeles Lakers’ third-most reliable scorer with an ever-deepening bag and Hardenesque foul-drawing skills is nothing short of miraculous. He deserves the credit, first and foremost, but the Lakers’ vaunted scouring department, developmental guru/ assistant coach Phil Handy, as well as LeBron, Ham, etc. undoubtedly accelerated his blossoming.

At some point around the All-Star break, the Lakers unleashed him as a scorer and playmaker. Glue guy, no longer. He averaged 17.6 PPG over the final 23 games. In the playoffs, he finally became Him.

In Game 6 — with his brother (who flew in from Germany) and his mom in the stands — Austin played the most impressive game of his life, considering the stakes. Reaves poured in 23 points (7-of-12 shooting), 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Within the last three minutes of the second quarter, he crossed up Steph with a filthy behind-the-back dribble and drew an and-1, drew another foul on Steph (two free throws), then drilled a half-court buzzer-beater to send the Lakers’ into the locker room up by 10. Frankly, that was the dagger.


— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 13, 2023

“It did feel good when I shot it,” Austin said.

Step 4: Actually making trades

Unlike in 2022, Rob Pelinka was busy at this year’s deadline. As you probably noticed, the Lakers exchanged half their roster and ended up with a group of versatile, hungry players who were a) ecstatic to be there, b) potentially playing for new contracts, and c) perfectly complement LeBron and AD.

Since then, the Lakers have been the best team with the best defense in the NBA.

“Rob Pelinka can tell y’all right up: I didn’t expect this,” said D’Angelo Russell after Game 6. “But once we got out there, you could just tell that guys liked each other, guys wanted to play for each other. It was contagious.”

LeBron injured his foot on Feb. 28 and had to miss four-ish weeks. The Lakers’ 8-5 record during that timeframe plus their newfound swagger motivated him to travel to who knows where to get the “LeBron James of Feet” to green-light a shocking return to action. As LeBron admitted, he could have easily opted for surgery and ended his season.

“I felt like if we ever had an opportunity to upgrade our roster and put some more balance around myself and AD, I felt like we could make a run,” LeBron said. “I feel like we could make a push throughout the rest of the regular season and going into the postseason. Rob and the front office, they did that. It was up to me and AD to come through on the moves that they made and staying healthy.”

LeBron: “You probably seen a lot of my tweets when I was not playing. I was just super excited about the games being played and couldn’t wait to get back.” https://t.co/bP8Gcdse9A pic.twitter.com/EmvXmQdvgW

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) May 13, 2023

LeBron just broke the NBA’s all-time record for playoff series wins (41) and has a real chance to win his fifth NBA championship.

Step 5: Still having LeBron and AD

Above all else, the Lakers are here for two overlapping reasons: They still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, yet they are no longer overly reliant on heroic performances from both to beat good teams. Including, like, the frickin’ Warriors.

LeBron has expertly chosen his spots throughout the first two rounds. His rebounding and help defense went up a level against Golden State, and he used straight-line speed — something his foot injury apparently isn’t affecting — to immediately turn stops into quick buckets, thereby making up for the Lakers’ offensive struggles. (I personally believe the pivotal sequence in the series was his burst at the end of the third quarter in Game 3 that secured a blowout out of nowhere and allowed him and AD to get extra rest.)

Rui Hachimura rejection leads to a LeBron James And-One on the other end pic.twitter.com/TUpG2aciaw

— LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) May 13, 2023

LeBron — who just made his 19th All-NBA team in his 20th season (lol) — has averaged his lowest points per game in his playoff career through two rounds. Not surprisingly, with an extra two days off on the line, he dropped his first 30+ point playoff game since the bubble in Game 6. He finished with 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting, plus 9 rebounds and 9 assists, featuring a sprinkle of Showtime.

“I just wanted to come in and make some plays and be efficient and defend at a high level and help AD rebound. Help our team make winning plays. And I was able to make a few of them.”

“It may have looked like I was conserving my energy,” he added. “But I was dead tired after every one of the games. You don’t really have the opportunity conserve your energy against a Golden State team.”

(May I remind you: there are “Last Dance” producers documenting his every move during this playoff run.)

Davis, meanwhile, shook off a head injury and snared 20 rebounds to go along with 17 points, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and countless shot alterations.

“Our expectations are a lot higher than showing up to the Western Conference Finals,” said AD.

LeBron scoffed at the notion that the Lakers are playing with “house money.”

“We’re playing to win every hand,” he said.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis embrace each other after advancing to the conference finals pic.twitter.com/3IL55JsA3T

— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 13, 2023

The Lakers are in the Western Conference Finals because of a total collective effort: From the front office to the coaching staff to the players to Jack Nicholson (who is now 3-0 in the playoffs).

Next up: a tricky adversary Jack knows all too well.

“They’ve been the No. 1 team in the West for a reason,” said LeBron of the Denver Nuggets. “They’ve played exceptional basketball all year. We have the utmost respect for that ball club. Very well coached. Obviously, we know the dynamic, what ‘Joker’ brings to the game.”

LeBron shares his initial thoughts on the matchup with Joker and the Nuggets pic.twitter.com/k53M8kcC8y

— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) May 13, 2023

“We’re aware of that monster in the Rocky Mountains that’s waiting on us,” noted Ham … “We’re gonna have our work cut out for us, but they gotta guard us, too.”

Game 1 is on Tuesday in Denver.

The post 5 steps that led the Lakers to a win over Warriors and the Western Conference Finals appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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