LeBron James scores 56 points, his most as a Laker, as L.A. beats Golden State
LeBron James stood outside the paint in the first quarter Saturday night at Crypto.com Arena, the Lakers’ season in as bad of a spot as it had been all year, as he slumped over at his waist. His right arm dangled from his shoulder like cooked pasta, as he tried to shake feeling into his fingers.
He had just been fouled and needed to shoot a free throw. But James looked over at the Lakers’ bench and shook his head, coach Frank Vogel quickly taking a timeout. James spent that break receiving treatment on his right arm, a massage gun quickly firing against the muscle, before he came back on the floor and made the free throw.
It was one point — one of 56, one shot in one of the best games he’s ever played.
“Whatever happened there,” Vogel said with a grin, “helped him shoot the basketball the rest of the night.”
With the Lakers desperately needing a win to breathe life into their postseason push and to snap a four-game losing streak, James had his best offensive game as a Laker, defying age and eluding defenders and leading his team to a 124-116 win against the Golden State Warriors.
“Right now, I don’t give a damn about the 56,” James said as he walked off the court. “I’m just glad we got a win.”
After the game, he untucked his golden uniform. Streamers fell. He hugged Stephen Curry. It wasn’t the Finals — the Lakers are forever away from that still — but it was an all-time performance on a night when the Lakers needed one so badly.
It was the most he’s ever scored as a Laker, pushing the Lakers to one of their best wins of the season.
“There are really no words for it,” Vogel said. “An incredible performance by the best to ever do it.”
James slipped through the Golden State defense and threw home a reverse one-handed slam. He drilled three-point jumpers and bullied for post-up scores in the paint. He got hot. He stayed hot.
He did it all — fittingly with Curry and the Warriors on the other side of the floor.
LeBron James scored a season-high 56 points Saturday night in the Lakers’ 124-116 win over Golden State. Here are the best photos from the game.
Curry scored 30 — he and James having battled in four straight NBA Finals at one point during their careers. This time, it was James leading the late-game heroics, slamming home a lob, dishing out a big-time assist and sinking game-icing free throws to save the Lakers from a flurry of late-game turnovers.
“When he has it going like that, there was really nobody on their team who can do anything with him,” Russell Westbrook said.
Westbrook built off success attacking the paint Thursday against the Clippers by having one of his best offensive games since the new year, pushing to the rim against a Warriors defense that is badly missing Draymond Green. He scored 20 to go with four rebounds and four assists, playing the kind of game the team had hoped they’d consistently get.
And Carmelo Anthony, like James did in the first half, beat the buzzer to end the third, the fans inside the Lakers’ home building showering them with cheers. Fittingly, he was on the end of James’ final assist — open in the far corner for a three-pointer to seal the win after an Austin Reaves offensive rebound.
“It was all eyes on him,” Anthony said. “… I knew something was about to happen.”
James’ 56 points Saturday were just the 19th time in NBA history a 37-year-old player scored at least 40. James did it earlier this season, one day after his 37th birthday. Michael Jordan (eight times), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (four times), Karl Malone (twice), Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Jamal Crawford are the only others to ever do it.
LeBron James’ 56 points was only part of a strong Lakers performance against the Warriors that raises the question: Why can’t they always play like that?
Only Jordan, Bryant and Crawford scored 50 after turning 37. Only Bryant’s 60-point finale outdid James’ 56-point outburst Saturday.
“You got to be able to adjust, man,” James said. “And if you cannot have a growth mindset on how you can find ways to get better with the team, then you’ll get left behind.”
It’s the 13th time in his career he scored 50 points, seventh all time and second among active players. It’s tied for the third most he’s ever scored. It’s been nearly 17 years — 16 years and 350 days to be exact — since James’ first 50-point game.
James and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players to score 50 points for multiple franchises. Each has done it for three.
“He just put us on his back tonight,” Anthony said.
The Lakers hope it’s a sign of a pendulum finally swinging back to their favor, momentum starting to build instead of struggling under an avalanche of disappointment and losing. But the heat isn’t being turned down, the team still in a fight for a spot in the NBA’s playoff play-in tournament.
After being skewered after Thursday’s blowout loss to the Clippers by “Inside the NBA” analyst Charles Barkley, the Lakers hosted the Warriors in front of Magic Johnson (who was working pregame for ABC) and Phil Jackson (who watched the game from a suite). Even the actor who is portraying former owner Dr. Jerry Buss, John C. Reilly, was courtside — the guardians of the team’s past (and their avatars) on hand for an up-close look at the present.
One team source said it felt like an early-round playoff game, the stands filled in well before tip (with people mostly cheering Curry’s warmup routine) and plenty of energy inside the building.
But in the back, whispers flew, NBA sources saying that the desire to move Westbrook to the bench has been building, both within the locker room and on Vogel’s staff, though Vogel has fought it off. He has, though, said it’s been discussed.
“We’re not there,” Vogel said after practice Friday.
Drastic decisions can be held off for now, the Lakers able to release some of the pressure that’s been building around them as their losses have been mounting.
“I’ll be able to sleep better tonight,” James said, finally with a feeling he won’t try to shake off.
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