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LeBron James flexes life into Lakers with scoring burst in win over Magic

Lakers star LeBron James reacts after scoring a basket and drawing a foul during the first half.
Lakers star LeBron James reacts after scoring a basket and drawing a foul during the first half of a 106-94 win over the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on Sunday night.
( Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

LeBron James flexed his arms. He tossed shots aimed high into the sky. He threw faux uppercuts and slammed home dunks. He begged for life from the Staples Center crowd, his hands above his head asking for more of the cheers he had created seemingly out of nowhere.

Before the third quarter, Sunday at Staples Center looked like another one of those nights. The kind in which you wondered whether things might be different if Anthony Davis’ knee wasn’t so sore, if Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza could trade their street clothes for basketball uniforms, and if Russell Westbrook just looked more comfortable.

But for everything the Lakers aren’t — and the list is long — they’re still the one thing of which the other 29 NBA teams are envious.

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Lakers forward DeAndre Jordan fell in love with rebounding early in his career, and it’s been his hallmark over 14 NBA seasons.

They’re the team that gets to employ James. And he’s the player who led them to a 106-94 victory.

With Staples Center sitting mostly lifeless after another clunker half of basketball for the Lakers (15-13), James pushed them into overdrive, leading the team on a 23-0 run in a quarter in which the Magic (5-23) made only two shots from the field in 23 tries.

Ta-da!

“Just an all-around great performance,” James said of the third quarter.

The Magic shot 8.7% from the field in the third, the worst an opponent has shot in a quarter against the Lakers since Dec. 14, 1999, when the Clippers went one for 18 from the field. The Lakers outscored the Magic 36-10 in the quarter.

In the third, James scored 14 points and had three assists, giving the Lakers two things they’ve rarely had this season — momentum and a huge lead. He finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He also had three highlight-reel blocks.

“He’s finding joy with hustle,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “… The effort he’s playing with is inspiring our whole group.”

James scored at least 30 points for the sixth time in the last eight games, a sign he’s finding his rhythm after a stop-and-start-and-stop first quarter of his season.

“How do I continue how I’m playing? Been doing it for 19 years,” James said. “Just do what I’ve been doing. I feel like I’m getting better and better each and every day. I’m getting healthier and healthier, and just resolved into me being in the right place at the right time.”

Even though the Lakers played without Davis for a second straight game, they left the court with a double-digit, defensively dominant win. Before the game, Vogel offered what amounted to good news for the big man — testing showed no structural damage, and Davis will be listed as day to day.

The Lakers begin a three-game trip Wednesday in Dallas.

They will head out on the road having won two straight and five of seven, but for as good as everything felt after a dominant third quarter, a rough fourth-quarter performance erased a lot of the good will.

After the Lakers led by 25, their lead was cut to 10 in the fourth. They allowed 25 points in the first eight minutes of the final quarter. While it didn’t cost them Sunday, stretches such as that one have defined chunks of the team’s first 28 games.

While Vogel said the Magic were better than their five wins indicated, advanced statistics have them right at the bottom of the 30-team NBA. Add in that they were playing the second game of a back-to-back in L.A., following a day-game loss against the Clippers on Saturday, and at the end of a winless five-game trip.

Orlando has won just once since Nov.17.

Still, the Magic pushed the Lakers in the first half and in the fourth quarter. Orlando led by nine points in the first quarter while the Lakers’ offense sputtered. Cole Anthony scored 12 of his 21 points in the first half, rookie Franz Wagner finished with 20 and Terrence Ross, oft-mentioned as a potential Lakers trade target, scored 15 off the bench.

LeBron James had 33 points, Avery Bradley scored 22, and the Lakers defeated the Thunder 116-95 on Friday night in Oklahoma City.

But no one affected the game as much as James, who said he came into the night well-rested after a four-hour pregame nap.

With him setting the tone, Westbrook settled in and got shots to fall at the rim that he missed in the first half. He had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists to offset his five turnovers. And Talen Horton-Tucker affirmed the two-way praise the Lakers have heaped on him, scoring 19 points on one end while getting a career-best six steals on the other.

But it was James, fittingly, putting the bow on the victory, bailing out a rocky possession with a side-step three-pointer. With the lead safe, the win minutes away, James looked to the courtside fans and blew a kiss.

And this time, he didn’t have to ask for the love to come back.


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