Stanley Johnson's impact and role for the Lakers keeps growing

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Stanley Johnson (14) goes to basket while defended by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. The Lakers won 101-95. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Lakers forward Stanley Johnson tscores against Jazz center Rudy Gobert on a drive to the basket Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The 6-foot-6 Stanley Johnson drove hard down the lane, his eyes on the rim, all the while knowing that Utah’s defensive stopper, 7-1 Rudy Gobert, was lurking during the early part of the tense fourth quarter of the game between the Lakers and Utah Jazz on Monday night.

Undaunted, Johnson continued his attack to the basket and scored over Gobert while being fouled. After the impressive basket, Johnson posed and flexed, relishing the moment, his teammates joining in on the fun of seeing him score against the NBA’s three-time defensive player of the year.

Johnson had given the Lakers the spark they needed in the fourth quarter, his play igniting the Lakers during their 101-95 victory over the Jazz on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena.

He scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, shooting five of six from the field. He had four of his five rebounds in the fourth, one of them an offensive board.

Perhaps more importantly, Johnson followed the orders of LeBron James, who kept telling his new teammate that had signed another 10-day contract earlier in the day to attack Gobert off the dribble.

“LeBron’s a smart player, so [when he says], 'Do this,’ OK, I’ll do it. ‘Do this.’ OK, I’ll do it, too,” Johnson said. “That’s just as simple as that went. He saw something.”

Johnson’s first basket pulled the Lakers to within 83-79 in the fourth quarter.

His next drive in the lane for a layup pulled them to within 83-81, and his 16-foot jumper tied the score at 83-83.

After James scored, Johnson scored twice more to help the Lakers take an 89-85 lead.

“Yeah, people forget that he was a top-10 pick in our league and he’s only 25 years old,” James said about Johnson, who was drafted eighth overall by Detroit in 2015. “He’s a guy that’s hungry and wants to go out and prove that he belongs in the NBA and trying to stick here to stay for as long as he can.”

Johnson signed his most recent 10-day contract Monday, following the one he signed on Jan. 6 and the first one Dec. 24 under the NBA hardship exception.

The former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star has started in five of the eight games he has played with the Lakers this season and has impressed the Lakers with his defense as a small-ball center.

Now, Johnson hopes he can stick with the Lakers the rest of the season. He said he’ll leave it in the hands of Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, and his agent.

“I don’t know, man. I don’t really think about it, to be totally honest,” Johnson said of signing a long-term contract. “I pray every morning and I go to practice and I go home. So, and you know, if they call me back, Rob talks to my agent. I have a great agent. He talks to me. He talks to him. ‘Come to play.’

"I’m in shape, I’m ready to play, let’s play. If they don’t call me, then that’s what God had for me. But it’s been going well. Keep it pushing, you know? Like, it’s my job. So, if they call me, I’m ready to work. If they don’t call me, OK.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.