LOS ANGELES — It made total sense.
Stanley Johnson signed another 10-day contract Monday morning with the Lakers and then was the reason they beat the Utah Jazz that night.
In a season continually bordering on bizarre for the Lakers, Johnson scored 10 fourth-quarter points to push them to a 101-95 victory at Crypto.com Arena.
Sure, why not?
Johnson used his quickness to score often in the fourth quarter, beating Jazz center Rudy Gobert on more than one occasion. He credited James for imploring the 6-foot-6 Johnson to use his speed to get past Utah’s 7-footer.
“LeBron’s a smart player. He saw something,” Johnson said. “The thing for me is playing with energy. I can’t be a stand-still statue. Any game that I’m able to have energy, I’ll be able to be a lot better basketball player.”
Johnson, 25, was out of the NBA until the Lakers called him last month while dealing with a rash of injuries and COVID-19 cases. He signed a 10-day hardship contract with the team and then added two traditional 10-day contracts after showing defensive prowess on the wing.
He hadn’t done much scoring, averaging only 5.4 points in nine games, but that changed Monday.
Even when Johnson wasn’t scoring, he was helping out. He took an offensive rebound after James’ missed shot and found Avery Bradley for a three-pointer with 2:34 left.
“His career has some ups and down and to see him flourish on nights like this is big,” Lakers guard Russell Westbrook said.
The Lakers must decide whether to keep the former lottery pick after this 10-day deal expires. They have an open roster spot but also want to keep it that way with the trade deadline a little more than three weeks away.
Johnson wasn’t the sole reason for the Lakers’ victory.
The Lakers held Utah 20 points below its season average and forced three key Jazz players into frigid shooting numbers — Donovan Mitchell made only six of 19 shots, Bojan Bogdanovic was one for nine and Jordan Clarkson was two for 13.
The victory improved the Lakers’ record to 6-12 against teams over. 500.
Amid all the recent losing for the Lakers (22-22), the one constant has been James. He kept rolling Monday and scored 25 points. It marked the 14th consecutive game he scored 25 or more points, his longest such streak in more than 15 years.
It all came two days after the Lakers were trounced by Denver, 133-96.
James felt compelled to say sorry to Lakers fans with a short but concise tweet Sunday evening: “#LakerNation, I apologize and I promise we’ll be better.”
They certainly were better Monday.
Westbrook made his mark by driving the lane in the second quarter and dunking ferociously on Gobert. Fans immediately jumped to their feet, hoping for a signature moment from the Lakers’ erratic (so far) acquisition.
“It gives us some swagger, which we need. Especially right now,” said Westbrook, who finished with 15 points.
Westbrook also came up big when he was fouled on a driving layup with 40.3 seconds left. He made the free throw to give the Lakers a 98-90 lead. Game over.
For good measure, he grabbed a broom in the first half and started mopping up a wet spot on the court after play stopped.
“I feel like I can do everything. Seemed like nobody else was doing it so I was like, sure I can do it,” he said, laughing.
The Lakers could afford to smile. It had been a while since they won a game like this against a team such as Utah.