With Anthony Davis dressed in a jacket and jeans sitting on the Lakers’ bench, unable to play because of a bruised backside, a weary LeBron James was forced to lead the attack without his main man by his side.
Even more challenging for the Lakers, James and starting guard Avery Bradley were under the weather entering Friday night’s game against NBA sensation Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite all that, the Lakers built a 22-point lead in the second quarter and rode a historic performance by James to their seventh straight win, 129-114 before 20,542 at American Airlines Center.
James came up three assists short of another triple-double, finishing with 35 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He played through flu-like symptoms, logging 32 minutes 16 seconds and going 14 for 25 from the field.
He now has 12,197 field goals in his career, moving past Michael Jordan and into fourth place on the all-time list.
“My legacy speaks for itself,” James said. “… When you’re on a journey and you’re on a marathon, to be able to have feats along that way is pretty special. Anytime I’m linked with the greats, tonight being MJ himself, it’s special. Like I said, hopefully I continue to make the greats proud, live on that legacy and continue to make my family and my fans proud as well.”
The Lakers turned to Kyle Kuzma to start in place of Davis, and used a zone defense as well as a small-ball lineup they were forced to employ when centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard both picked up five fouls.
Kuzma scored a season-high 26 points with six rebounds and two assists.
“I’m just trying to be myself, be aggressive,” Kuzma said. “Like I said, I got more shots and minutes to play. That naturally is going to happen.”
Doncic, playing without Kristaps Porzingis (sore knee), finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists but was a game-worst minus-24 in a frustrating first half as the Lakers built a 21-point lead.
Davis missed his third game of the season after taking a hard fall Tuesday against New York at Staples Center. He also missed a game against Golden State with a shoulder injury and one against Indiana with an ankle injury.
The Lakers play Saturday night at Oklahoma City, and coach Frank Vogel wasn’t willing to commit to having Davis return.
“[We’ll] see how he feels,” Vogel said. “He’s reporting back to the medical team and I’ll take the collaboration between the two of them.”
The Lakers ripped into the Mavericks’ defense from the start, scoring 45 points in the first, a season high for a quarter. They finished with 79 points by intermission, a season high for a half.
“Defensively we were very in-tuned,” James said. “Besides the fouling we had in the second quarter, we did a great job of just trying to neutralize everyone offensively, which allowed us to get an offensive flow. We shared the ball. We attacked.”
The Lakers’ lead was trimmed to 91-81 in the third quarter, and Vogel was forced to go with 6-foot-7 Jared Dudley at center, Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to hold things down.
They did, and the Lakers beat the Mavericks for a third time in their fourth and final meeting this season.
AT OKLAHOMA CITY
When: 5 p.m. PST, Saturday.
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.
Update: The Thunder (22-16) have won eight of 10 and are a surprising seventh in the West. Oklahoma City has five players scoring in double figures, led by its trio of guards: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.8 points), Dennis Schroder (18.4 points) and Chris Paul (16.7 points, 6.4 assists).