LOS ANGELES – No sooner had LeBron James landed from his slam dunk in the second quarter than he suddenly thought – checking his right wrist. He later said he hit it against the ledge, but it sounded like the familiar gesture of glancing at a watch.
What time was it? Not Lady Time.
No, 2021 ended on James’ own clock, as the 37-year-old scored 43 points, a season-high, in a 139-106 blowout for New Years Eve on the Portland Trail. Blazers at Crypto.com Arena. It was the seventh in a streak of over 30 points, which made him the oldest player with such a streak, but for Friday’s home game, James had something in a bigger measure that he had not had in weeks:
It’s not just that the four-time league MVP put on a show with quick break jams, turnaround jumps and five 3-point runs – he added spice with grunts, tilting his head for the effect, by cajoling the audience to be stronger and of course, with his timepiece shot at his superstar opponent, Damian Lillard. It only took him 29 minutes to prepare for his best goal night of the season – just a day after his birthday – and he cheated every second he could.
James later said he had thought of a Jay-Z song, “Forever Young,” which has been one of the many inspirations lately as he stays on top of a wave of more competition. and younger in the NBA.
“It’s about always keeping your mind and manifesting young things, thoughts in your mind but also at the same time following the pack of the young – the people who are always trying to chase you or the people who say you are. are too old to still be in this state, ”he said.“ It’s always a daily reminder and sometimes you have to remind people that you can still do what you are doing at a high standard and that I am coming. to be blessed, very blessed and that I continue to work. ”
Most notable was how windy the game was for the Lakers, who had lost six of their previous seven despite James’ outstanding individual performances. The Lakers racked up 43 points in their best-scoring opening quarter of the season, leading up to 17 points in the opening 12 minutes.
The Blazers were certainly not complete: They were missing CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington among a long list of injuries and players in COVID-19 protocols. Interim coach Scott Brooks had the reins on the sidelines for Chauncey Billups, who also tested positive for the coronavirus and was in protocols.
But the Lakers were also beaten while on the shorthand – by the Blazers themselves in November when they knocked them out at the Moda Center for 48 non-competitive minutes without James or fellow All-Star Anthony Davis (who is now injured). James and company seemed ready to pay them back in kind.
The ball moved quickly for the Lakers, flying up and down with their transition attack, or back and forth against Portland’s hopelessly outmatched defense. Shots fell in the paint (50 points) but shots also fell from the outside (19 for 41 from 3 points).
The Lakers opted to revive James to center, which further stretched the motley Portland team when he hit a 3-run early on. Coach Frank Vogel kept Stanley Johnson, who is at the end of a 10-day contract with the team, in the starting lineup to better pass Lillard and stay mobile in defense. The Blazers only shot 35.3 percent from the ground.
Vogel said the smaller lineup with James or Carmelo Anthony in the middle will continue to be a big part of what they do, even when Davis returns.
“During that streak we really showed that it could be something that would make the game easier for him,” he said. “He doesn’t struggle that much and there is more room for him to be a rollerblade, there are just a lot of positives to that.”
By the third quarter, James had extended his streak by over 30 points with a double-double, eventually finishing with 14 rebounds and becoming one of the oldest players in the past 40 years to score 40 points with 10 rebounds. James noted his effectiveness during his streak, which has taken place since Davis was injured on Dec. 17 in Minnesota: he shot 58% from the field, 42% from 3 points and tallied 10.9 rebounds. per game.
“I am always proud to be efficient,” he said. “I’m not the type to go out and see if I can take a bunch of hits.”
It was also early in the third quarter when Russell Westbrook had secured his ninth triple-double of the season – he finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. Perhaps the biggest prize for him was winning a victory over Lillard, a former playoff nemesis.
Lillard was particularly docile, having obtained only 5 points against 15 with a total of 18 points in 32 minutes. Former Laker Ben McLemore led Portland with 28 points after making his first four shots of the game.
The Lakers also got double-digit scores from Malik Monk (18 points), Anthony (16), Johnson (10), Talen Horton-Tucker (10) and Austin Reaves (10). The blowout allowed Vogel, making his first sideline appearance in six games, to gain extra time for the other Lakers who had just returned from Protocols: Reaves, Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore.
There could be more rematch on the way: On Sunday, the Lakers face a Minnesota Timberwolves team that have beaten them twice this season but are lacking in protocol players, including star big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
Even though it was just one win on Friday, James felt confident the team was starting to recover, another streak could be on the horizon.
“I mean in the last five games we’ve kept adding another piece of our core,” he said. “One game here, another game here. We’ll add more and get all of our guys who know our system and know what we want to do.
– NBA (@NBA) January 1, 2022