Since the 2023 NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers have been revitalized by the newfound depth around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’re 4-1 post-deadline and have been specifically ignited by recent pickups in each win.
In the final game before the All-Star break, D’Angelo Russell (21 points, 7 assists) helped deliver the Lakers a smooth win over the New Orleans Pelicans. In the first game back from break, Malik Beasley dropped 25 points (7-of-11 from 3) in a dub over the Golden State Warriors.
On Sunday, after a massive comeback road victory over the Dallas Mavericks — in which the Lakers became the first team of 2022-23 to overcome a 27-point deficit — the game ball goes to Jarred Vanderbilt.
After the Lakers rallied to cut the Mavs lead to a manageable 14 points at halftime, Vanderbilt nearly engineered a third-quarter run with inspired two-way play, including a highlight-reel combination of hustle and razzle-dazzle.
8 points, 8 boards, and 3 steals in the third quarter for @JVando pic.twitter.com/df2v1YCIHR
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 26, 2023
“His defense on (Luka Doncic), his activity, his energy, him getting us extra possessions, him getting big defensive rebounds … that’s a tall task to try to manage that matchup, as skilled as Luka is, one of the top-five players in our league, hands down,” said Darvin Ham. “That’s why he’s here: to create havoc with his energy and his efforts. And his size and athleticism, his quickness, all of that was on full display tonight.”
Vanderbilt finished with 15 points, 17 rebounds (8 offensive), and 4 steals. Most impressively, he held Luka to 2-of-7 shooting when he was the primary defender.
“Vando started it all with his ball pressure on Luka,” AD said about the Lakers’ comeback. “Getting some steals. Kinda turnt us up defensively. … You can put him 1-through-5 defensively. He knows how to play.”
Jarred Vanderbilt's ball pressure on Luka Doncic pic.twitter.com/r5n3RaZi9y
— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) February 27, 2023
Vando’s efforts forced the game-sealing turnover, too.
“Vanderbilt kicked our a–,” admitted Mavs head coach Jason Kidd.
1) Miscommunication between Kyrie & Luka during most important play of game
2) Kyrie signals to Luka after the turnover he was expecting something different
3) Jarred Vanderbilt is hell pic.twitter.com/dyKdvkxBsE
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) February 26, 2023
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LeBron articulated on how Vanderbilt’s elite basketball IQ, rebounding, and cutting has enabled him to take advantage — rather than succumb to — how defenses tend to sag off him.
“He knows where to be on every possession,” summarized James.
Vanderbilt’s relentless motor seemed to spark the rest of his teammates, as the Lakers dramatically picked up their defensive intensity and overall feistiness in the second half.
“He comes out and sets the tone defensively for us,” said AD. “His rebounding on both ends of the floor. Just started an effect for our group to lock in. … His value for our team, you can’t even put it into words.”
Davis finished with 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks — including a fiery second-chance slam with 2:00 to go that he retrieved thanks to Vando’s tip on the ball — and a stone-cold dagger on Luka.
“I’m a bucket,” AD shouted toward the Mavericks bench. “I’m a f–king bucket.”
LeBron battled through a foot injury to post 26. Dennis Schroder had 16 and 8 assists in place of D’Angelo Russell. Austin Reaves told Josh Green “he ain’t s–t.”
“I really was just trying to up the intensity, be a little more physical … just try to change the game,” Vanderbilt said about his impact on his teammates.
(It remains confounding that Rob Pelinka was able to persuade famous Lakers rival and infamously stingy trade partner Danny Ainge to toss in Vanderbilt without asking for an extra draft pick.)
Suddenly, as winners of three straight games, each against Western Conference foes, the rejuvenated Lakers (29-32) find themselves one game out of the Play-In and 2.5 games behind the Mavs for the No. 6 seed.