SAN Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama embraced Devin Vassell in a jubilant hug before exhorting the crowd at the Frost Bank Center to rise to their feet in celebration.
If San Antonio’s reaction to a regular-season victory seemed out of place, it’s because the Spurs haven’t had much practice at it this season.
Vassell had a career-high 36 points, Wembanyama had 13 points and 15 rebounds, and the Spurs snapped an 18-game losing skid, defeating the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers 129-115 on Friday night.
“Feels like a playoff game for me,” Wembanyama said. “We love this feeling.”
LeBron James had 23 points and 10 rebounds in his return after missing Wednesday’s Lakers game with a bruised left calf.
Anthony Davis sat out with a hip injury after scoring 37 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Lakers’ 122-119 victory over the Spurs on Wednesday. Los Angeles was also without starters D’Angelo Russell (migraine) and Cam Reddish (right knee soreness).
“Our team is not built to have three starters out,” James said, “but you can give credit where credit is due. San Antonio played great tonight. They shot the ball extremely well.”
Keldon Johnson had 17 points and Zach Collins added 16 points for the Spurs, who are 4-20.
“This is what I’m addicted to; this is what I love,” Wembanyama said.
The victory was San Antonio’s first since beating Phoenix on Nov. 2. It was the longest losing streak in franchise history, topping the 16-game skid last season.
“It didn’t feel like a normal win,” Vassell said. “You see people jumping around on the side. I’m trying to stay composed. It’s special. This is a special group, and at the end of the day, I don’t think we would have sat here and been like, ‘We’re going to lose 17, 18 in a row at the start of the season.’”
That skid almost continued despite the Lakers playing their third game in four nights.
The Lakers tried to counter Davis’ absence with a balanced scoring effort. Austin Reaves had 22 points and Rui Hachimura added 20.
San Antonio raced to a double-digit lead four minutes into the game and had a 49-24 lead on Doug McDermott’s 3-pointer three minutes into the second quarter.
That 25-point lead quickly faded as the Lakers went on a 38-17 run early in the second quarter. Christian Wood pushed Wembanyama aside for a layup that cut the Spurs’ lead to 66-62 with 19 seconds left in the first half.
Wood’s dunk capped an 8-0 run 88-80 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
“Tonight, we made shots, but overall, I think the defense was pretty good,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s been pretty good and improved significantly, but offensively we still have a ways to go. But I thought that they competed well. It’s tough to go up 20 against a team that’s run by LeBron on that court since he knows how to manipulate everything and do what has to be done to win a game.”
Wembanyama added five assists and two blocks, but failed to get his hands on a 3-pointer by James in a rare one-on-one matchup between the No. 1 picks in 2003 and 2023.
“Just tried to get his hands to go down just a little bit because I know his wingspan,” James said of the shot. “I know he’s able to block shots outside his comfort zone. I just tried to create a little bit more room, shoot a little bit higher and I was able to knock it down.”