Playoff basketball is not in the Lakers’ future next month, so it’s arguable the 127-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday was the franchise’s most important game of the season because it showed James first-hand what he could work with if he takes his talents out west as a free agent.
While much of the damage was done by players who may not even be on the roster next season if James relocates, the Lakers’ young guys had their fair share of impressive moments – no one more than Julius Randle.
The bruising forward made mincemeat of the Cavaliers by scoring 36 points on 14-of-18 shooting, while also tallying 14 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.
Randle will be a restricted free agent this summer, but it’s possible James would want the Lakers to keep him – although that could hinder the team from bringing in a second max contract in addition to LeBron.
Julius Randle balled out!— NBA (@NBA) March 12, 2018
Career-high 36 points | 14 boards | 7 dimes
The last Lakers player with that many points, rebounds, and assists in a game was Kobe Bryant on March 23, 2008 @EliasSports #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/Mk4lMrqFRp
Rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, meanwhile, flashed their talent in the win despite not playing their best games.
Ball had five points, seven assists and three rebounds, whereas Kuzma had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Perhaps more than any individual performance by the Lakers, James may have been impressed with their fluidity and style of play.
James complimented head coach Luke Walton after, saying: “Since Luke took over, they’ve improved every single season I think, and you just try to implement that ball movement, that body movement, that he got when he was in Golden State.”
Aside from showing James what the Lakers are capable of, the result was also a double whammy in the sense that it continued to expose how much Cleveland are lacking, even after making the moves they did at the trade deadline to bring in younger players.
The Cavaliers dropped to 6-6 since revamping their roster, with their defence again a major concern as they allowed at least 108 points for the third straight game.
Kevin Love remains sidelined with a fractured hand, while Tristan Thompson (sprained ankle), Rodney Hood (back strain) and Cedi Osman (hip flexor) also missed the contest as Cleveland fielded a less-than-full squad.
James acknowledged the injuries and how they’re hampering the team’s play, but didn’t express confidence when asked if the Cavaliers were heading in the right direction.
“You don’t know,” James answered. “I mean, you don’t know.”
Off the court, the Los Angeles faithful did what they could do make James feel wanted by giving him an applause during the starting lineup introductions.
And last week, billboards went up across the city with the message of “#LABron” in the hopes of luring James in the summer.
Philly isn’t the only team that wants LeBron, judging by these billboards in LA. pic.twitter.com/3M39IFqOf0— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 7, 2018
James has enough on his plate at the moment to be overly concerned with his future beyond this season, but the Lakers and their fans at least gave him something to ponder down the road.
Revenge is a dish best served with 20 points and a loss.
But his stay in Cleveland was a short one as the team’s struggles, combined with lack of chemistry, led to the Cavaliers giving up on Thomas and trading to the Lakers at February’s trade deadline.
In his first chance to get back at Cleveland, Thomas – who has accumulated several chips on his shoulder during his underdog career – had one of his best games of the season to hand LeBron and Co. a loss.
Thomas downplayed any extra motivation he had coming into the game, saying afterwards: “No, I don’t need to show anybody. They know what I can do. I only played 15 games for them, so it’s really not about showing them what I can do. The world knows what I can do and what I bring to the table.
“I took it as another game and I just wanted to win and we did a helluva job as a team, beating that really good team over there.”
While the Cavaliers could certainly use a player capable of scoring 20 points and dishing nine assists, it’s not as if Thomas has been lighting the world on fire since moving to Los Angeles.
The 29-year-old former All-Star has been better with the Lakers, but his shooting efficiency is still leaving a lot to be desired – 39.6 per cent from the field and 31.9 per cent from long range.
Thomas may well put his hip injury in the rearview mirror and return to his old form by the end of the season, but for now he’s still not the player the Cavaliers had hoped they traded for – even if Sunday showed otherwise.
It seems like every week LeBron James makes a pass that captures the imagination.
We all know the Cleveland Cavaliers star is a phenomenal scorer, but his passing sometimes goes under the radar.
This highlight in Cleveland’s 127-113 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, however, was a nice reminder of just how ridiculous James’ court vision is.
That’s pure art. With Kyle Korver standing alone on the perimeter and the Lakers on the verge of scrambling over, LeBron drew both defenders with his eyes and a fake before dropping an easy no-look to Ante Zizic for the dunk.
LeBron is known for making pinpoint, cross-court passes all the time, but we don’t often get these type of dimes from him that conjure memories of Magic Johnson or Pete Maravich.
It also looked familiar to one a certain former great pulled off.
LeBron wasn’t done though.
Had it not been for his beautiful no-look feed, this would have been the biggest highlight to come out of the game.
LeBron sure does love a good nutmeg.
Even at 33, James remains as fun to watch as ever.