SAN DIEGO, CA – For a pre-season basketball game, this received all the attention of a playoff game.
Then again, when LeBron James is in the building, every game is must-see television. James made his debut as a Los Angeles Laker on Sunday as he and the new-look Lakers took on the Denver Nuggets at the Valley View Casino Center. Despite James making his presence known early, the Nuggets ran away with the game, winning the match-up, 124-107.
You could tell that “LeBron fever” was in full effect even before the game started. At the Lakers” afternoon shootaround in nearby Temecula, over 300 fans showed up just to see “King” James take jumpers. The nearly sold-out crowd of 13,565 almost made the arena shake when James got the first possession of the game after the jump ball. At the 9:12 mark of the first quarter, James made his first points in a Lakers uniform when he took a pass from Rajon Rondo and turned it into a 26-foot three-pointer.
However, it wasn’t just on the scoring end where James was making an impact. He spent most of his time in the first quarter getting his younger teammates involved, notching two of his three assists in the first quarter. The recipient of James’ sharing attitude was third-year guard Brandon Ingram, who delivered a thunderous dunk with the first assist and a spot-up jumper with the second. Despite the sharing, though, the Lakers were down 34-28 at the end of the first.
Ingram made a jumper to put the Lakers within three, but then Denver, led by Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez, took the game over. Back-to-back three-pointers put the Nuggets up by nine, and that set the tone for the remainder of the game. Though the Lakers showed some fight as half-time approached, the Nuggets held fast for a 66-54 halftime lead.
JaVale McGee, one of the newest additions to the Lakers, made sure Denver put some respect on his name to start the third stanza. After Denver’s Paul Millsap made a free throw, McGee took the Nuggets to town, scoring six straight points on a pair of dunks and a jumper. Led by Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers came back to tie the game with 6:59 left in the third. But the momentum didn’t last long.
Denver center Nikola Jokic made a pair of free throws to put the Nuggets back ahead by two, followed by a Monte Morris jumper. Kuzma came back for Los Angeles with a jumper, then Lance Stephenson made a pull-up three to give the Lakers their first lead since the first period. The teams slugged it out for the remainder of the quarter, with the Nuggets winning the round and going into the final stanza with a 96-88 lead.
At this point, the Nuggets began to permanently pull away. Mason Plumlee made a pair of free throws to put Denver up by 10, and at one point were up by 23. The Lakers finished the game on a 14-8 run, but the damage had already been done.
LeBron’s first game as a Laker wasn’t the most memorable from a statistical point of view: he finished with nine points, three rebounds, and three assists. However, it was his impact off the ball that mattered the most: four Lakers players finished in double-digits scoring, led by McGee’s 17 points. The Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, had a scoring free-for-all as seven players scored in double digits. Juan Hernangomez led the charge off the bench, scoring 19 points.
While it’s way too soon to say that the LeBron James-Los Angeles Lakers pairing is an absolute failure, here is what we can note from Sunday’s pre-season game:
- LeBron will definitely need to play more than one pre-season game. James looked comfortable from the jump, but you can definitely see there was some rust that needed shaking off. That being said, it’s only pre-season…he’ll be fine.
- Don’t expect James to be the aggressor that he was in Cleveland. The difference between this Lakers squad and the team he carried in Cleveland is that there are a bunch of young, quality players who are hungry and motivated. And with a seasoned vet like LeBron around, they will soak up his knowledge like a sponge. This can only be of benefit to the Lakers.
The two teams will go toe-to-toe again on Monday, with James set to make his Staples Center debut.