Lakers escape wild series of events against Hawks and go over .500

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Monday, November 12, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- There was precisely one second left on the clock Sunday when Trae Young, theAtlanta Hawks' tantalizing rookie, unleashed a floater in the lane that threatened to cap a 15-point comeback for a riveting road win.

The ball hung in the air for what felt like an eternity before backup center Tyson Chandler rose up to tip it away, securing a 107-106 win for the Los Angeles Lakersat Staples Center that improved their season record to 7-6.

You want to talk about an eternity? Ask the Lakers how long it has been since they last felt what it was like to be over .500. The once-proud franchise, with those 16 championship banners hanging from the rafters, went nearly two years since a 111-109 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 22, 2016 put them at 8-7 to startBrandon Ingram's rookie year.

Rob Pelinka wasJames Harden's agent then, not the Lakers' general manager. Magic Johnson was more apt to rip the team on Twitter, than to dress down their coach in a closed-door meeting as he did recently in his role as team president of basketball operations. LeBron James was basking in the glow of his championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Barack Obama was president. Instagram stories were just being rolled out on the app.

"It's good to finally have a winning attitude around here," Ingram said when asked to look back at the last two years. "We just want to continue to keep going. I don't think we can stay complacent right now."

You really want to talk about an eternity? Ask Chandler how long it has been since he finished a season with a winning team -- go all the way back to the 2014-15 Dallas Mavericks that ended up 50-32.

After the Lakers plucked him from purgatory in Phoenix last week, he has known nothing but winning since joining Los Angeles, as Sunday stretched the Lakers' winning streak to three with Chandler in tow.

And when it was over, after Los Angeles lucked out on a kicked ball that wasn't called with 1:37 left leading to a tying layup from Kyle Kuzma; after James missed back-to-back free throws with 19.9 seconds left and somehow got two points on the possession anyway by dunking home a tip-in after Kuzma kept the ball alive, Chandler and James screamed in jubilation, pounded each other's chests and hugged on the court to commemorate the moment.

"It was just off the reaction of Tyson," James said, describing their embrace. "And I believe that it's just for him to be playing winning basketball once again, I think those emotions came out. To make a game-winning block, you don't see that much in our league."

James' most famous game-winning block -- not in the final second, mind you, so game-saving might be more apropos -- came in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2016 to win a ring. Chandler beat James' Miami Heatin 2011 to win his ring with the Mavericks.

This was two former champions celebrating a regular-season win, playing for a franchise that has racked up more accolades than any NBA team outside of Boston, and, you know what, it wasn't gauche. It wasn't embarrassing.

It was the type of unbridled enthusiasm that it will ultimately take the Lakers to get back to the perch they once held for so long. If the Lakers' elder leaders bring that much energy to this thing, their young pieces -- Ingram, Kuzma,Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart-- will have no choice but to follow suit.

You want to talk about an eternity? This was the first game-winning dunk of James' career in the final minute of a game. And it came on his 2,061st slam, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

In other words, there are still things left for the old dogs to accomplish as they bring along the young pups. There's some salvation to be found in the regular-season grind, even for guys who are used to playing in the postseason spotlight.

"I still get excited by every single win, especially this team is a group of incredible guys, a mixture of veterans that I've competed against my entire career and then young guys that I'm growing to appreciate," Chandler said. "It's just every single moment out there that we get an opportunity to grow, I know what it's going to take for the end of the year. So again, just trying to cherish every one of those moments and trying to grow at the same time."

As Chandler answered, James shouted across the locker room, "That's my dawg! That's my dawg!"

It wasn't quite Magic jumping into Kareem's arms after their first regular-season win together, and Abdul-Jabbar looking at the rookie as if he had lost his mind, but there was a hint of that sentiment.

Winning feels great. There's nothing like it. And the Lakers are tasting it again at long last.

"We both want exactly the same thing and that's to turn this historic franchise that's won over throughout the years and get it back to those type of days," Chandler said of he and James. "And in order to do that, you got to have these type of moments."

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