The Los Angeles Lakers barely survived a much-needed game against the Orlando Magic on Sunday night with a 111-105 victory. The win could almost solely be credited to Austin Reaves, who put together one of the best performances of his career with 35 points, six rebounds and six assists while shooting 18 free throws.
Reaves made up for lackluster play from almost every other Laker contributor. This includes Anthony Davis, who underwhelmed with 15 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-15 shooting. The Lakers desperately needed the victory after losing their last two games to the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.
Davis had no issues crediting Reaves for his dominant performance and taking blame for his own outing. “He played extremely well. He carried us tonight with his play,” Davis said. “Got whatever he wanted, pick-and-rolls, 3s, got to the line I think 18 times. We know what he have in Austin, he’s very confident and he played that was tonight.”
Reaves’ Sunday night explosion could easily make fans forget that it was only last year that he was an undrafted rookie who signed a two-way contract with the Lakers after the draft. He was converted to a standard two-year deal during training camp before becoming a regular rotational piece.
“Yeah, early in the season. He just made the right plays. He listened a lot, he was a sponge from all our guys that were here,” Davis said of Reaves’ rookie year. “I mean, we had a veteran group last year so he was able to soak up a lot of information and apply it fairly quickly.
“And then you could see all of that coming out this year, especially when he has had to step up and play huge for us. So from Day 1, we kind of knew what he had in Austin and he just constantly gets better and better, makes the right plays, is comfortable with the ball in his hands late game and he’s gonna make the right reads. So I knew early on what type of player he could be and he’s showcasing it right now.”
Perhaps Reaves’ best quality this season has been his improvement as a ball handler and playmaker. It wasn’t clear at the beginning of the season if Reaves would be trusted with playmaking duties. Now, he is almost a regular facilitator within the Lakers rotation.
This has also helped him with getting free throws more consistently.
“He gets a lot of those calls,” Davis said. “Me and Bron joke about it like ‘man, I wish we could get some of those.’ But yeah, as a guard, he’s able to, I don’t want to say manipulate the game, but just see how the game is being called and use it to his advantage like the Trae Youngs and James Hardens, guys who get a lot of free throws. So he’s able to take that to his advantage and get to the line.”
If Reaves continues to play the way he has been, not only could he earn himself a spot in the starting lineup, but he could also be due for a big payday this offseason.
Due to Arenas rule provisions, he’ll only be able to make a first-year salary that matches the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but he could receive a massive raise in years three and four of any potential offer sheet.
Reaves discusses MVP chants from fans
It didn’t take long for Lakers fans to bring out MVP chants during the big night from Reaves. He spoke about the support from the Laker faithful following the game.
“Obviously, that’s never sustainable. But for them to recognize what I do, obviously, not an MVP-caliber player, those guys are really good. But for them to do that for me is special. It means a lot to me. So shout out Lakers Nation.”
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