Toward the end of Sunday night’s game, the scoreboard descending from the rafters at Staples Center read: Lakers 120, Hornets 10.
That was just a glitch; it wasn’t quite that bad for Charlotte. But a fourth-quarter deluge by the Lakers might have seemed that lopsided.
The Hornets proved a pesky opponent for about three quarters, then the Lakers asserted their dominance, winning 120-101 to improve to 2-1. Anthony Davis scored 25 points in the first half, almost singlehandedly keeping the Lakers in the game, and finished with a game-high 29 points and 14 rebounds.
LeBron James, despite going scoreless for most of the first half, scored 14 in the fourth quarter and finished with 20 points and 12 assists. Dwight Howard added 16 points with 10 rebounds.
“It’s amazing,” Davis said, when asked about defenses having to account for him and James. “Like I said, especially when we are on the floor together. They have to pick their poison. And we have great players around us who can score the basketball or make plays for themselves or others. And then when we both have it going, we are definitely a tough team to beat.”
In their preparation for the game, coach Frank Vogel impressed upon his team not to take the Hornets lightly, despite the predictions that they would be one of the worst teams in the NBA. Vogel noted their shooting in particular as a potential trap. In a season-opening win over the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte made 51% of its shots and 52% of its threes.
The Hornets made seven of 15 threes in the first half and led by as many as nine. Down seven with 4:39 left in the first quarter, the Lakers went on an 11-0 run to take control.
Davis was the brightest star of the half. His 25 points included three three-pointers — his first of the season.
“I was due for one,” Davis said. “Coach and assistant coaches and all the players just told me just keep shooting them. It was a matter of not overthinking and just letting it fly. And then when I’m able to shoot the ball like that, it opens up the floor for guys, for their drives, and it makes the defense respect me now from three, and we got a lot of good looks.”
Despite Davis’ efforts, the Lakers led by only one at halftime. Davis was the only Laker in double figures, while Howard was their second-leading scorer with eight points, six rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.
James had only four points and one field goal by that point — hitting two free throws with 1:40 left in the half, then making a layup on the Lakers’ next possession — though he did have eight assists.
“Every game dictates what my game will have, and they shrunk the floor a lot in the first half and it caused for me to get my guys involved, and just tried to pick their defense apart,” James said. “I was able to do that and get some assists, even with us missing some interior shots, some exterior shots, I still wanted to find my guys, get them comfortable and get them some great looks.”
The Lakers led by seven after three quarters, before they changed the tenor of the game.
“Obviously you get into the second half and you feel like you’re at home; you want to protect your home court,” Vogel said. “The other team is staying in the game. … I think during that stretch is where we really locked into picking up our intensity, but being really disciplined to not let the whistle blow and stop the action and break our momentum.
“We have a high ceiling of what we can be on the defensive end, and I think we saw that in the second half tonight.”
The Lakers were on a 15-2 run when James pulled up to hit a three-pointer that give them a 19-point lead about 3½ minutes into the fourth quarter. He ran back down the court with his hand still posed as it was when the ball left it. The Hornets called a timeout and James looked to the crowd, urging the fans to cheer louder.
“We know who we are,” James said. “But we have a long way to go to get to that point.”