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LeBron James gets something almost as valuable as Lakers’ win over Mavericks

Lakers star LeBron James drives through the Dallas Mavericks defense to score on a layup.
Lakers star LeBron James drives through the Dallas Mavericks defense to score on a layup during the Lakers’ 138-115 victory at Staples Center on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The red on LeBron James’ shoes matched Santa Claus’ suit, a special pair for a special game that has meant so much to him in his NBA career.

He lounged back on his socially distant chair, one leg crossed over the other, while he watched his Lakers teammates extinguish a Dallas Mavericks comeback without him. He took one shot in the game’s last 7 minutes 19 seconds — a balled-up towel he sent back behind the bench with a flick of the wrist.

The work he had put in during the prior 31 minutes of court time combined with the Lakers’ expanded offensive weaponry afforded him the chance to watch his team close out a 138-115 victory Friday, their first of the young season.

It was, in some ways, a perfect night for the Lakers and James. He got to showcase why he’s such a special player on a big stage — throwing lobs, igniting the Lakers’ offense and fueling their fastbreak in front of a national television audience. And he got to do it without the Lakers asking him to finish the job, helping keep his minutes down as he works his way back into the rhythms of his 18th season.

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Lakers coach Frank Vogel credited James and Anthony Davis, who got outplayed by Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the opener, for triggering the big offensive night, with James setting the tone by aggressively attacking Dallas’ defense.

James closed out the season opener sitting on the bench too — that time with the Clippers pulling ahead. Friday, the circumstances were more joyful.

He scored 22 points to go with 10 assists and seven rebounds, the only real hiccup coming from a 15-foot free-throw attempt that went about 14 feet and 6 inches, barely scraping the net.

Davis’ inside-out game was clicking, with the Lakers forward hitting shots at the rim, from the block and, most importantly, from three-point range, where he connected on three of five on his way to a 28-point game.

They had help — lots of it, actually.

“We have the ability to defer,” James said on a postgame videoconference.

Game highlights from the Lakers’ 138-115 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas.

Montrezl Harrell delivered on the things he does well — playing with energy and finishing at the basket, even adding some face-up jumpers during a 22-point game on 10-for-13 shooting. He did it with flair too, wearing feathered sneakers in the first half and jawing at the Dallas bench in the second as his minutes were always high-impact.

And Dennis Schroder, the Lakers’ starting point guard, continued to show the value in adding an additional shot creator on the floor with James and Davis, playing downhill toward the rim while knocking down open shots. Schroder made seven of 11 shots, scoring 18 points with six assists.

The Lakers dominated on the glass, scoring 35 second-chance points while keeping Dallas from a single putback.

“We got a really good team,” Davis said frankly.

A look at the 10 best photos from the Lakers’ 138-115 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas Day at Staples Center.

Vogel said he thought the loss to the Clippers in the opener helped his team perform more sharply Friday, with the Lakers embracing ball movement and finding the open man almost from the tip. Davis said the team’s film sessions, which are becoming things of lore because of the Lakers’ ability to implement change without marathon practices, were a big factor.

And then there’s a continuation of a simple goal from a year ago. No one goes undefeated in the NBA, but you can be a team that fights like crazy to avoid a losing streak.

“We pride ourselves on not losing two games in a row,” Davis said.

There’s obviously still work to do — 17 turnovers would’ve hurt a lot more if the Lakers hadn’t shot the ball so well (56%). And even though he was the focus of their defense, Luka Doncic still scored 27 points to lead the Mavericks.

But there’s time to sort that stuff out and work through the errors that naturally arise throughout the year. Just like Vogel is still evaluating lineups and rotations, it’s way early.

But in their first win, the Lakers showed their depth and their skill, outgunning a team that last season had the most efficient offense in NBA history.

“That’s what the game asked for. The game called for being well-balanced. ... We’re just moving the ball and got into a great rhythm,” James said. “We have the ability where four, maybe five guys that can score 20 ... on any given night as long as we’re sharing the ball, as long as we’re efficient, as long as we defend.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

And that’s good news for James, who had the best view watching the fruits of that balance from the bench.

Dennis Schroder looks like a solid fit with the Lakers, but he reportedly turned down an initial contract extension offer and won’t come cheap.


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