Thursday morning after shootaround, he was asked how Lakers coach Luke Waltonand he would go about managing his playing time in order to keep him fresh for late in the season. At 33, with James entering his 16th year in the NBA, the Lakers want him at his best when the games matter most.
I’m always fresh,” James said, smiling. “All my coaches want to figure out a way of how to lessen my minutes, I keep telling them I’m strong enough to play most minutes, but they won’t listen to me, so it’s OK. I like it.”
As he took the ball and eyed his path, the anticipation in the arena grew. Fans gasped in unison at the sight of James dribbling the ball close to mid-court, nobody between him and the basket. Once he made up his mind to take off full speed, there was no doubting how that sequence would end.
Moments later, James rose in the air with one arm extended and his brows furrowed. He slammed the ball through the rim, making the whole apparatus shake, and unleashed a howl. Even in this most hostile arena, where the fans chanted “Beat L.A.” and booed James with the force of a rivalry that’s been one-sided of the last several years, the crowd erupted.
This was LeBron James’ first official score as a Los Angeles Laker.
Kyle Kuzma sank a three-point shot in transition to cut the Lakers’ deficit to seven points with 2:06 left in the game but the Trail Blazers never surrendered the lead for a 128-119 victory in the season opener for both team Thursday night in Portland.
The Lakers cut the deficit to five points, 124-119, when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a three-pointer with 31 seconds left, but that was as close as they could get.
Nik Stauskas converted a pair of free throws to protect Portland’s lead with 20 seconds left and Damian Lillard sank two more to seal the win.
Moments after the Lakers took their first lead of the third quarter, the Trail Blazers went on an 8-0 run to surge back into the lead.
Lonzo Ball made a shot for an 82-81 lead with 2:40 left in the quarter and Josh Hart added a three-pointer to reclaim the lead, 85-83, after an Evan Turner basket.
Maurice Harkless gave the Trail Blazers a 91-85 lead with 45 seconds left, but Ball converted a pair of free throws and Hart closed the quarter with another three-pointer to cut the Trail Blazers’ lead to 93-91.
Brandon Ingram shook off two missed free throws to make a pair of shots and Kyle Kuzma threw down a dunk off a feed from Josh Hart for a quick six-point run that cut the Trail Blazers’ lead to 79-78 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
Just after the Lakers cut their deficit to one point, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard do what they do best — combined to make three consecutive shots including a three-pointer by each — to increase the Trail Blazers lead to 79-72 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
Brandon Ingram made three shots and JaVale McGee converted three of four free throws to bring the Lakers to within 71-70 moments after taking a brief 69-67 lead.