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LeBron James’ can’t-miss moment, Lakers’ rout of Rockets break James Harden

Lakers forward LeBron James drives with the ball against Houston Rockets guard James Harden.
LeBron James scored 22 of the Lakers’ 71 first-half points against James Harden and the Rockets on Tuesday in Houston.
(Troy Taormina / Associated Press)

The basketball court is everything to LeBron James. That 4,700 square feet of hardwood is where he ascended to iconic status, won championships and built a platform that’s allowed him to better the world.

And Tuesday night, he turned his back on it — if just for a second.

Standing in the corner in front of the Lakers’ bench, James calmly launched a shot, spinning around to face his teammates as soon as the ball left his hands. He didn’t watch it go in. Didn’t need to.

“Bet a Benjamin on it,” teammate Dennis Schroder said.

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Swish.

“A bet’s not official,” James explained later, “until you look a man in the eye.”

The Lakers were so good they didn’t even have to watch all of their 117-100 win in Houston. The Rockets weren’t so lucky. For two games in a row, they had to witness the gulf between them and the team that eliminated them from the playoffs a year ago.

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James’ look-away three — a shot Golden State’s Stephen Curry makes “10 times out of nine,” he said on the postgame videoconference — highlighted his best half of the season, the kind of play destined to end up in the highlight packages celebrating his career and the Lakers’ run with him.

“Legendary,” Schroder said.

It’s too early to crown this version of the Lakers, but six straight road wins to open the season is the Lakers’ best start since 1985-86.

“We’ve played some really good basketball on this trip,” James said.

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He scored 22 of the Lakers’ 71-first half points, making four threes while assisting on four baskets. It’s almost too bad that James’ highlight shot happened Tuesday, dwarfing what the Lakers’ defense accomplished in the first quarter.

The NBA and players’ union will follow stricter health protocols over the next two weeks to try to reduce game postponements due to COVID-19.

James Harden and the Rockets sputtered to just 14 points in the first 12 minutes. Just like they did Sunday, the Lakers stifled the Rockets at the rim and on the perimeter, grabbing 10 steals, blocking 12 shots and tipping a handful of passes, frustrating Houston’s offensive rhythm.

The Rockets weren’t helped by Harden, who has made his trade wishes well known. Harden, who led the NBA in scoring each of the last three seasons, scored only 16 points, the third time in four games he failed to crack 20.

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“I don’t think it can be fixed,” Harden said after the game, ending his news conference after those words.

The frustration has been there, but the ease with which the Lakers went through the Rockets in back-to-back wins had to push Harden even closer to the edge. The Lakers beat Houston by 18 on Sunday and 17 on Tuesday, the 35-point margin not even close to indicative of the gap between the teams.

The Lakers weren’t wall-to-wall effective Tuesday, and after the first half, their attention to detail faded. Montrezl Harrell and Talen Horton-Tucker both missed dunks, and James and Anthony Davis — maybe the scariest possible duo to see on a two-on-one — couldn’t score after what’s best described as an “alley-oops.” It was one of the team’s 21 turnovers.

But the glitches were quickly repaired, the Lakers totally dominant for their second straight win in Houston. They led by as many as 30.

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James finished with 26 points and Davis with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks — including a total erasure of Sterling Brown on a dunk attempt — in only 29 minutes for both, a best-case scenario with the Lakers headed to Oklahoma City for the second of back-to-back games.

The only bad news came after the game when coach Frank Vogel said Davis jammed his left big toe and required X-rays. They didn’t reveal any damage, but he will be questionable Wednesday against the Thunder.

The NBA fined Lakers forward Markieff Morris $35,000 and Rockets center DeMarcus Cousins $10,000 for their shoving match in Sunday’s game.

“It’s a little sore right now,” Davis said. “…We’ll see how it feels for tomorrow.”

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Free of excuses, locked in on defense and having lots of fun, the Lakers (9-3) have the best record in the NBA.

“We all got one common goal,” James said. “And our goal is to hold each other accountable, put a lot of pressure on us as individuals, as our individual self. And then if one individual is not feeling like himself, then we pick our brother up, and that’s what it’s all about.

“We’ve got a common goal to compete every night, play championship basketball.”

And like James, you didn’t have to stare at the court for all 48 minutes to know that they’re doing it.


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