LOS ANGELES — It’s gotta be the headband.
After missing the last Lakers game, Alex Caruso seemed possessed by something a little extra against the Pistons. A sequence that imprinted a 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter included a high, off-the glass and-one finish and a two-handed dunk on a fastbreak steal — Caruso’s five-point-per-game average got a little extra pop.
Maybe it was the white headband, which he fixed after his slam. Something needed to stand out for the Lakers in one of their ugliest games of the season.
Frank Vogel has called this January stretch the “dog days” of the season, and that’s never been more apparent than three, sludgy quarters that saw the Western Conference-leading Lakers (29-7) fight in the mud with a struggling Pistons (13-24) team that is is bedraggled by injuries. They needed something extra in the finish to pull out their fifth straight win, 106-99, that reeked of midseason doldrums.
LeBron James did much of what he usually does, starting out with zip to an eventual 21-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist stat line that powered the Lakers past another inferior opponent. While he didn’t get the whistles he wanted — a reoccuring phenomenon these days — he still powered his way into the paint nonetheless on a night when the Lakers’ 3-point ball (6 for 20) was nearly nonexistent for the final three quarters.
The “extra” came in the form of Caruso’s 13 points, as the guard returned to the lineup. It came in the form of a block party, which saw the Lakers reject a season-high 20 shots, including a late crucial rejection by Dwight Howard, who himself gave an extra dose of energy with 11 points off the bench and nine rebounds.
In the end, the Lakers were able to do what they’ve done against bad teams: outlast them. Anthony Davis, who had struggled offensively for much of the night (7 for 16) helped pull away with a late 3-pointer and opportunities at the line, finishing with a team-best 24. Caruso and Davis made clinching free throws at the end as Andre Drummond whiffed on a lay-up in the final 10 seconds.
Davis couldn’t make shots, but he tried his best to make sure no one else did, either. The forward swatted the Pistons for a season-best eight blocks. JaVale McGee added six himself, flexing for the crowd after rejecting Derrick Rose — even as the section ahead of him shouted for him to run back in transition.
The odds were evened in part by free throw opportunities: The Pistons had a wild 35 attempts from the line to the Lakers’ 23, and they were brutally efficient hitting 30 of them. A whopping 65 points from the Detroit bench was highlighted by performances from Derrick Rose (28 points), Langston Galloway (13 points) and former Laker Svi Mykhailiuk (14 points).
With Blake Griffin sidelined, the Lakers succeeded in limiting Drummond’s easy looks — the former All-Star was just 2 for 13 from the field.
The Lakers made up for losing Avery Bradley at the end of the second quarter. The starting guard did not return after spraining his right ankle on a transition opportunity.