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LOS ANGELES — When the NBA instituted its inaugural in-season tournament, the hope was that it would create an early-season buzz that would help make the first phase of the season feel more meaningful. So far, the plan has worked.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said his team was “well aware” of what was on the line in Tuesday night’s home game against the Utah Jazz.

And they played like it.

The Lakers (9-6) led wire-to-wire in a 131-99 victory over the Jazz at Crypto.com Arena to go undefeated (4-0) in group play and secure their spot in the tournament quarterfinals. The Lakers, who beat Phoenix, Memphis, Portland and Utah by a combined 74 points, have clinched at least a top-two seed (likely No. 1) and will host a Western Conference opponent to be determined on Dec. 4 or 5

With dominating interior play from Anthony Davis (26 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two steals), well-rounded performances from LeBron James (17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds), D’Angelo Russell (20 points on 7-of-9 shooting with eight assists) and Austin Reaves (19 points, five assists and five rebounds) in addition to strong supporting play, the Lakers clinched West Group A with the victory.

“Being home and able to sleep in our beds, not having to travel, that’s always good when you play well at home,” Davis said. “Kind of a rocky start early on on the road so this kind of helps us out having our fans behind us. But it feels good. We’re one step closer to winning the, uh, Cup? Is it the tournament Cup? NBA Cup? Something like that? So, one step closer.”

The signs of a dominant performance by the Lakers showed early, with Russell assisting James on an alley-oop for the game’s first points early in the first and two of the Lakers’ first baskets being dunks to take a 6-4 lead.

The Lakers, who have won three in a row, six of their past seven and improved to 7-1 at home, led by 15 at the end of the first quarter, by 21 at halftime and by 30 late in the third quarter before seeing the margin balloon to 39 during the fourth quarter.

The Lakers held Utah to 33% shooting in the first half while setting the tone for the night.

“They did a good job of just closing the floor on us and taking all the space that we had and forcing us to take tough shots,” said former Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson, who scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting.

With the Lakers on the first night of a back-to-back and the game well out of hand, Ham sat James (24 minutes) and Davis (29 minutes) for the entire fourth quarter.

Christian Wood (season-high 16 points, eight rebounds), Rui Hachimura (12 points, six rebounds) and Jaxson Hayes (10 points) also scored in double figures.

Cam Reddish was ruled out of the game in the second quarter because of groin soreness. Ham said team doctors were going to monitor Reddish Tuesday night and they should know more about his injury Wednesday morning.

The Lakers have been at their best so far during tournament games. They outscored their opponents by 18.5 points per game in their four group play games, compared to going 5-6 and being outscored by six points per game in their non-tournament games.

The Lakers will return to Crypto.com Arena on Wednesday night to play the Dallas Mavericks.

MILESTONE

With a 3-pointer that put the Lakers ahead 11-7 with 7:11 in the first quarter, James scored his 39,002nd regular-season career point – becoming the first player in league history to score at least 39,000 points.

James, who became the league’s all-time leading scorer last season, entered Tuesday with 38,995 career regular-season points and exited at 39,012.




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