LeBron James, who turns 39 in a few weeks, has the perfect stage to demonstrate that he is still at the top of his game thanks to the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament.James put on a show during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 133-89 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at T-Mobile Arena, where dramatic theatre lighting created the perfect atmosphere for the tournament’s semifinals.
James led the Lakers to a Saturday championship game matchup with the Indiana Pacers, who defeated the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the day. James scored thirty points on Thursday in addition to dishing out eight assists and grabbing five rebounds.
The 21-year-old Lakers sensation has been so good for so long that there are moments when his performance against the Pelicans, in which he made 9 of 12 shots (including 4 of 4 from three), had no turnovers, and had a plus-minus of plus-36 in his 23 minutes of play, seems typical for him.
The things that James continues to accomplish on the basketball court appear even more absurd when one considers that he is older than teammate Austin Reaves—Shaquille O’Neal, who has been retired since 2011 and watched the tournament from courtside.
For example, during the first 61 seconds of the second quarter, James began to push Los Angeles ahead. He made three 3-pointers in that time, the last one qualifying as a heat check since the audience was waiting for him to shoot from 30 feet out as soon as he touched the ball past half court.
It brought back memories of James’ first encounter with Zion Williamson in 2020, when he opened the game and established his supremacy over the then-rookie wonder by scoring 11 straight points in the third quarter, including going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Even with his impressive outside shooting, James’s defensive effort may have taken precedence.
In the first quarter, he set up to take a charge on the 23-year-old Williamson as he was racing down the lane. He then drew two more in the second quarter, risking his body, which had already played the most minutes in league history.
With 18 points in the second quarter overall, he helped Los Angeles take a 67-54 lead into the half.
By the third quarter, the floodgates were opened, as the Lakers launched a 22-6 run to take a 90-60 lead, capped off by an alley-oop pass from James to Anthony Davis. The Lakers led 110-71 going into the fourth quarter following a 43-17 thrashing.
The Lakers were excellent in practically every facet of the game, even though James was the leader. L.A. outrebounded the Pelicans 40-31, hit 15-for-29 from three (51.7%), and guarded the ball the whole game, only giving up eight turnovers.
Leading the way with 16 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks was Davis, one of four Lakers with double digits.
With a 3-5 record to begin the season, Los Angeles is confident going into Saturday’s NBA Cup final, where they will compete for the first-ever NBA Cup and a $500,000 cash award per participant. The Lakers are now 7-3 in their past 10 games and have won three straight, climbing to No. 4 in the Western Conference rankings.
Before the game, Lakers coach Darvin Ham observed, “This time of year you tend to – you don’t want to admit it, but teams tend to sleepwalk through some of these games.” “I thought it was a great idea for the league to bring this competition at this time of year. There is unquestionably a very strong electricity present in Vegas right now, and it can be felt throughout the arena and among the teams. Everyone is eager to strive their hardest and give it their all.”
James and the Lakers now have a chance to win a title on Saturday.