DETROIT -- If not for an Austin Reaves 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds remaining, the Los Angeles Lakers might have dropped the final leg of their six-game road trip Sunday against the Pistons.
Instead, L.A. completed a 124-117 win against a Detroit team with the worst record in the league at 7-22 to close out the trip 3-3. And the prize awaiting the Lakers after flying some 2,300 miles back to the West Coast is a Tuesday date with the Boston Celtics (21-6), owners of the best record in the NBA.
"That's why it was a must-win for us, to get this win feeling good about ourselves going into a big game back at home," Anthony Davis said of the victory against the Pistons. "We feel like we can beat anyone. We're playing really good defensively, offense is clicking. So we expect that to be a good game for us."
The Lakers' play against the Pistons mirrored their performance during their 11-day journey on the road. The trip started with wins against Milwaukee and Washington; Sunday's game started with a lead that swelled to as many as 14 points in the first half.
Then the trip continued with three straight losses in Cleveland, Toronto and Philadelphia; Sunday's game saw Detroit outscore L.A. by 11 points in the third quarter and cut the Lakers' lead to just two with 35.3 seconds left with a Bojan Bogdanovic layup.
Ultimately, the Lakers were able to salvage a feeling of success that they'll take back with them to L.A.
"It's been a whirlwind," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the trip. "But I'm happy. I'm satisfied with our team. ... We did a lot of things well. A lot of things we need to get better at. But we're trending in the right direction. So I'm very pleased with that."
Davis (34 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals) returned to the MVP form he flashed at the beginning of the trip before a cold sidelined him for most the Cavs loss and all of the Raptors defeat. LeBron James (35 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) played well, too, and was part of the biggest play of the night, assisting Reaves on his crucial 3 by finding the second-year guard on the wing.
"I trust him," James said of Reaves. "I love what he brings to the table both offensively and defensively, and his basketball IQ is very high. He plays hard and he doesn't make many mistakes. And anytime he's on the floor with me, I trust him to make the play."
It was a bit of redemption for Reaves, who scored a season-high 25 points against the Sixers but missed a free throw with nine seconds left in regulation before L.A. eventually lost in overtime.
"You always want [to] win, but especially after a game like that," Reaves said of the loss in Philadelphia.
It was another pinch-me moment for Reaves, who joined the Lakers on a two-way contract in the summer of 2021 after going undrafted out of college.
"Twenty years down the road, I'll probably think back to times like this and be like, 'Damn, like it was arguably one of the greatest players ever having trust in me,'" Reaves said. "Which is special."
Ham trusted an unconventional rotation down the stretch in Detroit, playing James, Reaves and Dennis Schroder for the entire fourth quarter, combined with Lonnie Walker IV and Davis taking the lion's share of the remaining minutes.
Russell Westbrook (11 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds) did not play at all in the fourth.
"Guys get in a rhythm together and you can't really just always look at stats," Ham explained of the decision to keep Westbrook on the bench. "You got to look at the rhythm of the five guys that are playing on the court. And I felt like we had a group out there that was in a really good rhythm."
It's a rhythm they'll try to carry with them back to L.A. for a major challenge against their longtime rival in Boston.
"We got to try to get as much rest as we can starting from now all the way to Tuesday night because we're going to need it, because a very good team is coming into our building," James said. "But, I like the way we ended the trip."