LOS ANGELES — Already missing three starters in LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Lonnie Walker going into the game and seeing a fourth player, Troy Brown Jr., exit early because of a left quad strain, Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham felt the need to protect Dennis Schroder from himself after the point guard rolled his right ankle midway through the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
“He got in the huddle, and I told him, ‘Man, if I see you limping, I’m taking you out,'” Ham said, describing the Lakers’ timeout with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter while trailing the Miami Heat by three points. “He said, ‘No. Leave me in the game. I’ll be all right, Coach. I’m good.’
“You said, ‘Well, be good.’ And then he said, ‘I’m not going to be good; I’m going to be great.’ Those were his exact words to me.”
Schroder stayed in the game, working through the pain caused by stepping on Bam Adebayo’s foot, and stepped up to the free throw line to immediately drain two foul shots, cutting the Lakers’ deficit to a point. One possession later, he hit a 3 from the corner to put LA ahead by two.
The Lakers never trailed again, winning 112-109. Schroder led the team with a season-high 32 points, along with four rebounds and four steals.
“I just try to be there for my teammates,” Schroder said. “I felt pretty good after [turning the ankle]. Of course, it was sore, and it hurt. But I know my limits.”
Ham, who was an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks when Schroder came into the league as a rookie in 2013, credited the veteran guard for gutting it out.
“A lot of times, when your adrenaline is pumping like that, you don’t feel it,” Ham said. “But I’m sure, later on tonight or in the morning, he’s going to feel that. Kid’s just a fireball of a competitor. And he showed that tonight.”
The win lifted LA to 4-1 in its past five games and 5-5 overall since Davis went out of the lineup with a fractured bone spur and stress reaction in his right foot.
Schroder was one of several Lakers to have strong performances, with Thomas Bryant (21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, 9 rebounds), Russell Westbrook (21 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals), Austin Reaves (11 points , 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and Wenyen Gabriel (10 points on 4-for-6 shooting) also contributing.
“I just think different guys are settling into their roles, getting more comfortable with more reps, more minutes,” Ham said. “When we do get our big dogs back, whether it’s Bron, AD, both of them back — Lonnie, as well — it just makes us that much stronger, that much deeper, because now guys have confidence. They have the ultimate confidence because they’ve gotten the reps.”
LA is now one game behind the Utah Jazz for the 10th seed in the Western Conference, which could get the Lakers back in the playoffs through the final play-in spot.
While it’s hardly the brand of basketball equating to the 17 championships the franchise is known for, the stretch without Davis has shown that the Lakers had a relatively prosperous offseason when it comes to signing decisions, with Schroder, Bryant and Brown all finding consistent success despite only being inked to minimum contracts.
Schroder, who is back with the Lakers on his second stint with the team, said that Ham’s presence weighed heavily in his choice to return.
“We’ve been talking for like, I don’t know, three to four years, [saying that] when he becomes head coach that I want to be his PG,” Schroder said. “He trusts me. I remember summer league my second year; he was the head coach there, and he just let me be me.
“And right now, he keeps telling me to be aggressive even when Bron and AD are there [and] Russ: ‘Be aggressive and do your s—.’ That’s what he always says. So, I’m going to keep being aggressive, keep finding my way. And I got to shout out to him that whatever he said before I came here, he lived up to it. So, you love him.”