D'Angelo Russell scores 44 as Lakers edge Bucks at last second in thriller

The Lakers desperately held on to a late lead against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, their primary closer in street clothes because of a sore ankle.

They had weathered bulldozing drives from Giannis Antetokounmpo. They’d handled flurries from Damian Lillard. And, on the back of an incredible D’Angelo Russell heater, they were in an every-possession-matters game with the Bucks deep into the fourth.

But Antetokounmpo drilled a jumper. And then Lillard hit a three-pointer (and got another point at the foul line), forcing the Lakers to do something they hadn’t needed to do all game.

Without LeBron James, the Lakers were going to have to make a comeback.

After forcing Lillard into a miss on a driving layup in traffic, the Lakers had their chance — 23.2 seconds left, down one and in possession of the ball.

First, it was Russell, as he did all night, breaking down the Milwaukee defense and putting in a 13-footer with his left hand. With the Lakers needing one last stop, Spencer Dinwiddie, the Angeleno native making his first start for the team (in James’ place), smothered Lillard and blocked a potential game-winner in the final seconds, securing an emotional 123-122 win.

Russell finished with a season-best 44 points while making nine threes — his run of stellar play over the last two months reaching a new high.

James, who didn’t play Friday because of a sore left ankle, spent one timeout sitting with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and team executive Linda Rambis in the seats across from the Lakers bench.

Before the game, Lakers coach Darvin Ham said James was dealing with severe soreness in the ankle after he was forced to leave Wednesday’s game with Sacramento in the fourth quarter.

“I think it’s caused by 21 years of service,” Ham said. “It’s a day-by-day thing, and we’re gonna treat it as such. And see how he feels tomorrow.”

The Bucks weren’t whole either, with Khris Middleton still working back from his own ankle injury.

The Lakers host Minnesota on Sunday, the latest in a string of big games for them against the league’s top teams.

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