LOS ANGELES — The high point came as the Lakers approached the midpoint of their season, as Larry Nance Jr. soared upward, needing to reach his own vertical peak before he could secure a lob from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Nance threw down the dunk and Caldwell-Pope puffed out his cheeks, and held up his index finger as if to tell Nance to pause and appreciate the highlight they had just combined to create.
The Lakers’ 41st game of the season might not have been their best, but it, like Nance on his dunk, is up there. They dispatched the short-handed San Antonio Spurs 93-81 behind 26 points from Brandon Ingram and another stellar performance from Lonzo Ball.
The rookie point guard tallied 18 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 7 for 11 from the field. He finished four assists shy of a triple-double.
Nance was not all flash, posting 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Since ending a nine-game losing streak earlier this week, the Lakers have won three games in a row with a date with the struggling Dallas Mavericks on Saturday. Though it’s a modest number, the three victories mark the longest winning streak of the Lakers’ tumultuous season.
The Lakers raced out to one of their most lopsided starts of the season, more than doubling the Spurs early output by taking a 37-18 lead. The Lakers limited the Spurs to 15 points in the first quarter and 38 points in the first half – both season lows.
By holding San Antonio to just 34.1 percent shooting in the first half and 18.2 percent from 3-point range, the Lakers’ defense, a source of much frustration in recent weeks, re-established its identity.
The Spurs stormed back to take a 53-52 lead after a 3-pointer from Bryn Forbes, but the visitors’ advantage was short-lived. Caldwell-Pope answered with one of his two 3-pointers, and the Lakers responded with a quick 9-2 run.
It was an impressive defensive display by the Lakers.
“We responded like a team that has failed a lot and kind of got sick of it because we were at that same point again. We’ve seen that same point many times this year,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
That can be a tall order against the Spurs (28-15), who even without Kawhi Leonard for most of the season have risen to near the top of the Western Conference. The Spurs’ system is greater than any one player, and always seems able to withstand injuries.
“It is a game that we have to be very, very locked in to being committed to playing defense for the entire game,” Walton said Thursday morning.
In the absence of Leonard, a perennial MVP candidate, future Hall of Famer Tony Parker and starting guard Danny Green, the Spurs were led by 20 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and a near-double-double from former Lakers center Pau Gasol (nine points, 12 rebounds).
With the victory over the Spurs, the Lakers are halfway through a season that has not gone according to plan. In October, the Lakers spoke of contending for the eighth seed of the playoffs. They entered Thursday in a three-way tie for last in the Western Conference, seven games out of the playoffs.
Rather than focus on their disappointing record, Walton pointed to progress they have made in three target areas: effort, defense and pace.
“We’ve done most of those things all season,” he said. “We haven’t got the final results that we always want, but for being a somewhat new group and a young team, I’m happy with the way our guys have played and more importantly, the way they’ve worked and the habits that they continue to build.”
In his eighth straight start, Julius Randle was held scoreless on six shots. … Corey Brewer did not play for the first time in 318 games, bringing an end to the NBA’s longest games played streak.
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