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Rui Hachimura plays himself into larger Lakers play-in role

The Lakers placed their faith in Rui Hachimura to play at a high level in the fourth quarter of a high-stakes game against the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Arena.

And Hachimura delivered for the Lakers.

He played 11 minutes and 21 seconds in the final quarter of a game that was going to determine the Lakers’ fate in the NBA’s play-in tournament. He was strong on the backboards, defense and in his role at forward alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

It is possible that Hachimura could have increased his role with the Lakers when Los Angeles hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night in the play-in game between the seventh and eighth teams, respectively, in the Western Conference, with the winner advancing to the playoffs as the seventh seed.

Hachimura played in his 33rd game with the Lakers since he was acquired from the Washington Wizards on Jan. 23.

He has found his niche with the Lakers while developing a strong bond.

“Of course, they watched my games since I got in the league,” Hachimura said. “That’s the reason why they wanted to trade for me, you know, and I got traded and I play like [33] games now and they saw what I have for me and they believe in me. So, I just got to keep working on myself. I got to keep working on defense and shooting the balls, threes. Yeah, those are the things I’m focused on.”

Over the course of his 23:23 against the Jazz, Hachimura provided the Lakers 12 points, five rebounds and one key block of a shot by Utah’s Kelly Olynyk late in the fourth with the Lakers leading by three points.

A few seconds later, Davis scored on a floater, giving the Lakers a five-point lead that was spearheaded by Hachimura’s defense.

Lakers forward Rui Hachimura, left, battles for a rebound against Utah Jazz center Damian Jones.

Lakers forward Rui Hachimura, left, battles for a rebound against Utah Jazz center Damian Jones in the fourth quarter Sunday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“Just a super competitor,” James said of Hachimura. “He wants to be great. He wants to be held accountable. He’s always asking me what he can do better to help this team, how he can be better to help this team. Cause he wants to.

“I feel like we complement each other very well, along with AR [Austin Reaves] … Rui, the more minutes, when he knows he’s going to play, when he gets that routine of consistency, he shows what he’s capable of doing.”

The 6-foot-8 Hachimura has averaged 9.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and shot 48.5% from the field in 22.4 minutes per game with the Lakers.

Playing with James has been beneficial for Hachimura.

“It’s crazy,” Hachimura said. “I still think it’s just like an honor thing. I’m honored to be a part of this organization and honored to play with him. It’s just one of my crazy experiences and it’s going to be in my memories forever. I just got to make the most of it. I got to learn from him and I got to ask a lot of questions and I got to see how he approaches his game.”

Hachimura played all but the final 39.7 seconds of the fourth quarter, checking out with the Lakers holding an 11-point lead, his confidence high after helping seal the win.

“They trust me, especially because this was the most important game of the season,” Hachimura said. “I got to keep working for what they keep asking for. Yeah, just play my game.”

Hachimura will be needed when the Lakers play the Timberwolves and their talented big men.

He has earned the trust of the Lakers to be in the game when it matters the most, too.

“Rui’s been phenomenal, man,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I mentioned it in the last game. When he’s energetic and he’s playing with force, it’s great. You can finish with him. He can guard bigs. In late-game situations, you have to switch. He has good enough feet where he can stay in front of a guard. He’s strong enough to hold up a center. He’s long in the post on pick-and-roll defense.

“You saw, he misses a shot and he’s strong to the rim. He knocks down free throws. He’s a mid-range shooter, a capable three-point shooter. He multi-facets, as are a ton of our guys on our roster. He’s going to be another one we lean on heavily in this postseason.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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