If this is the ride the Lakers are going to take people on this season, the destination will undoubtedly stay murky.
They are, indeed, the team with offensive struggles bad enough to open the season on a five-game losing streak, the misses at the rim and three-point line almost impossible to imagine.
They also are capable of putting together runs of impossibly good basketball, their defense feeding their offense feeding their defense — a high-speed wrecking machine that can flip a game in an instant the way they did Sunday against the Denver Nuggets.
But what makes the Lakers even harder to figure out are nights like Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans, where they were all of the above — good and bad, efficient and deficient, winning and losing.
All of it makes them confusing. And, at least on Wednesday, wildly entertaining.
The Lakers coughed up a huge third-quarter lead and came seconds away from their sixth loss this season, but a brilliant out-of-bounds play, a big shot and sheer force in overtime pushed them to a wild 120-117 win at Crypto.com Arena.
Matt Ryan, who made the Lakers as the team’s 15th player with a nonguaranteed contract flared to the corner and caught a cross-court inbounds pass from Austin Reaves to sink a tying three-pointer at the regulation buzzer — easily the biggest shot of his young pro career.
“It’s a great play call,” Anthony Davis said. “… Matt did what he do.”
Lonnie Walker IV led the Lakers with 28 points, LeBron James and Davis had 20 each and Russell Westbrook had 13 points, seven rebounds and nine assists off the bench.
Ryan, the hero Wednesday, scored 11.
James said he has been in bed sick since Sunday.
The victory came after the Lakers built a 16-point lead by being at their best and coughed it up by being closer to their worst.
The Lakers had a chance to win only after New Orleans left the door open a crack. After the Lakers missed a chance to tie in the final seconds, rookie Dyson Daniels (whom New Orleans selected with one of the picks the Lakers traded to them for Davis) missed a pair of free throws to give the Lakers a chance.
After a timeout, coach Darvin Ham put in Ryan and drew up a play that would eventually force overtime.
A blistering end to the first half keyed by defense and transition, a style that Ham wants to define his Lakers, left the Pelicans stunned.
In less than three minutes, the Lakers turned a three-point deficit into a double-digit lead, using a 17-2 run that, coupled with the way the team played Sunday, made it seem that maybe the team had turned an early-season corner.
This run, like the one led by Westbrook and the Lakers’ bench Sunday, featured the same kind of on-court celebrating that the most confident NBA teams enjoy, a vibe the Lakers sorely missed in their five straight losses to open the season.
“The game, you’re in the thick of the game, and each play is a major play, whether it’s a block, a steal or a rebound, a defensive stop. A good pass, a good finish — they have the right,” Ham said before the game. “They put a lot of work in. They have the right to go out there and play enthusiastically and enjoy the game.”
But for everything Westbrook, James and Davis added during that stretch, the Pelicans erased it in the third and fourth quarters, forcing the Lakers into a possession-by-possession game where the margins became incredibly tight.
Defensively, the Lakers continued to show that their athleticism and effort would overcome a lot of their offensive woes.
“We’re starting to find things,” Davis said.
The team, in what has been a defining trait, missed all kinds of three-point shots and survived a less-than-ideal night from James and a quiet second half from Westbrook.
But the Lakers gritted through enough late-game possessions, stealing extra ones by grabbing offensive rebounds and winning enough 50-50 plays to make up for a cold stretch of slow, stagnant offense.
But there was still time, still chances until the final seconds.
“Just compete,” Russell Westbrook said.
And that’s what they did.