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Dennis Schroder Lifts Depleted Los Angeles Lakers to Unlikely Win

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LOS ANGELES – Already down three starters in LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Lonnie Walker going into the game and seeing a fourth player, Troy Brown Jr., leave early with a strained left quadriceps, Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham felt the need to protect Dennis Schroder from himself after the point guard sprained his right ankle midway through the fourth quarter on Wednesday.

“He joined in and I told him, ‘Dude, if I see you limping, I’m going to pull you out,'” Ham said, describing the Lakers’ timeout with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter, trailing the Miami Heat by three spots. “He said, ‘No. Leave me at the game. I’ll be fine, Coach. I’m fine.’

“I 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 advanced to the free throw line to immediately drain two free kicks, cutting the Lakers deficit to one point. One possession later, he hit a 3 from the corner to put LA ahead by two.

The Lakers never lost 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 really good after [turning the ankle]. Of course, he was sore and it hurt. But I know my limits.”

Ham, who was an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks when Schroder entered the league as a rookie in 2013, credited the veteran point guard for tearing him apart.

“A lot of times when your adrenaline is pumping like that, you don’t feel it,” Ham said. “But I’m sure, later tonight or in the morning, he’ll feel it. Kid is just a fireball of a competitor. And he showed it tonight.”

The victory took LA to 4-1 in its last five games and 5-5 overall since Davis dropped from the lineup with a fractured bone spur and stress reaction to his right foot.

Schroder was one of several Lakers to put in strong performances, with Thomas Bryant (21 points on 9-of-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-of-6 shooting) also contributed.

“I just think different guys are adapting to their roles, getting more comfortable with more reps, more minutes,” Ham said. “When we get our big dogs back, whether it’s Bron, AD, both of them back – Lonnie too – it makes us a lot stronger, a lot deeper, because now the guys have confidence. They have the best confidence because they got the reps.”

LA is now one game behind the Utah Jazz for the 10th seed in the Western Conference, which could propel the Lakers back to the playoffs via the play-in final.

While it’s hardly the basketball brand equal to the 17 championships the franchise is known for, the period without Davis has shown the Lakers to have had a relatively prosperous offseason when it comes to hiring decisions, with Schroder, Bryant and Brown all seeing consistent success despite only being signed for minimal contracts.

Schroder, who is back with the Lakers in his second stint with the team, said Ham’s presence weighed heavily on his choice to return.

“We’ve been talking for, I don’t know, three or four years, [saying that] when he becomes head coach, I want to be his PG,” Schroder said. “He trusts me. I remember the summer league my sophomore year; he was the head coach there and he just let me be me.

“And now, he keeps telling me to be aggressive, even when Bron and AD are there. [and] Russ: ‘Be aggressive and do what you want.’ That’s what he always says. So I’m going to keep being aggressive, keep finding my way. And I shouted at him that everything he said before I came here, he fulfilled. So I love him.”