LeBron James gets something almost as valuable as Lakers' win over Mavericks
Lakers star LeBron James drives through the Dallas Mavericks defense to score a layup in the Lakers 138-115 win at the Staples Center on Friday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The red on LeBron James' shoes matched Santa's suit, a special pair for a special game that meant so much to him in his NBA career.
He leaned back in his socially distant chair, one leg crossed over the other, as he watched as his teammates from Lakers erased a Dallas Mavericks comeback without him. In the last 7 minutes and 19 seconds of the game, he shot a shot - a ball of towel that he swung back behind the bench with a flick of the wrist.
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The work he'd done in court in the last 31 minutes, combined with the Lakers' advanced offensive weapons, gave him the opportunity to watch his team take a 138-115 win on Friday, the first of the young season .
In a way, it was a perfect night for the Lakers and James. He had to show why he is such a special player on a big stage - throwing praises, igniting the Lakers' offense and fueling their fastbreak in front of a national television audience. And he had to do it without the Lakers asking him to quit the job, helping to keep his minutes low as he worked his way back to his season 18 rhythm.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel credited James and Anthony Davis, who were pitted by Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the opener, for triggering the big offensive night, with James setting the tone by aggressively attacking the Dallas defense.
James also finished the season opener on the bench - this time with the Clippers. On Friday the circumstances were happier.
He scored 22 points to go with 10 assists and seven rebounds. The only real hiccups came from a 15 foot free throw attempt that lasted about 14 feet and 6 inches and barely scratched the net.
Davis's inside-out game clicked, and the Lakers shot forward on the edge, off the block, and most importantly, out of three-point range, connecting three out of five points on the way to a 28-point game.
They had help - a lot of it, actually.
"We have the option to reschedule," James said at a video conference after the game.
Montrezl Harrell delivered the things he is good at - playing with energy and landing on the basket, even adding some open jumpers during a 22-point game in 10v13 shooting. He did it with flair too, wearing feathered sneakers in the first half and on the bench in Dallas in the second as his minutes were always very impressive.
And Dennis Schroder, the starting point of the Lakers, continued to show how valuable it is to bring an additional shooter to the ground with James and Davis, who plays downhill to the edge and knocks down open shots in the process. Schroder made seven of eleven shots and scored 18 points with six assists.
The Lakers dominated on the glass, scoring 35 points on second chance, while Dallas was held back by a single setback.
"We have a really good team," said Davis openly.
Vogel said he thought losing to the Clippers in the opener helped his team pull off a tougher performance on Friday. The Lakers adopted the ball movement and found the open man almost from the top. Davis said the team's film sessions, which become lore due to the Lakers' ability to implement change without marathon practices, were an important factor.
And then there's a continuation of a simple goal from a year ago. Nobody goes undefeated in the NBA, but you can be a team fighting like crazy to avoid a losing streak.
"We pride ourselves on not losing two games in a row," said Davis.
There's obviously still a lot to do - 17 turnovers would hurt a lot more if the Lakers hadn't shot the ball as well (56%). And despite being at the center of their defense, Luka Doncic still scored 27 points to lead the Mavericks.
But it's time to sort that out and get rid of the bugs that naturally appear as the year progresses. Just as Vogel still evaluates lineups and rotations, it's early on.
But on their first win, the Lakers showed their depth and prowess, surpassing a team that had the most efficient offense in NBA history last season.
"That's what the game asked for. The game needed balance. ... We just move the ball and we got into a great rhythm," said James. "We have the ability to have four, maybe five players who can score 20 points on a given night ... as long as we share the ball, as long as we are efficient, as long as we defend."
"It's a beautiful thing to see."
And that's good news for James, who had the best chance of watching the fruits of this equilibrium from the bench.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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