Late in the first quarter on Sunday night, Zion Williamson got loose inside the paint and rose up for a ferocious one-handed slam that shook the rim and got everyone at Smoothie King Center off their feet -- even those in Lakers jerseys. A few seconds later, LeBron James took the inbounds pass, strolled up the floor and launched a 3 from just inside mid-court with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Cash. It was as if LeBron was reminding everyone that the rookie might be the new hot commodity, but he still believes he's "The King" in this league.
The whole game, in fact, was defined by that conflict. Williamson put on a show, and recorded a new career high with 35 points on 12-of-16 shooting in one of the best games of his young career. But LeBron was the one in full control all night long. Finishing with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists, he recorded his 13th triple-double of the season and led the Lakers to a 122-114 win over the young Pelicans. Even as New Orleans hung around all night long, there was just never a doubt that LeBron was going to make sure the Lakers got the win.
That's a story that's been told many times before throughout LeBron's nearly two-decade career, but the way he went about his business on Sunday was as interesting as it was impressive -- especially in the fourth quarter. He completely dominated the game out of the post in a way we have always known he's capable of, but don't often see to this extent. But with Anthony Davis out of the game because of a sore knee, LeBron played more of a power game down the stretch, and the Pelicans paid the price.
New Orleans just didn't have an answer when LeBron decided to turn his back to the basket. It was a simple formula: if the Pels sent a double team he made the smart pass to an open shooter, and if they let him go one-on-one, he scored. All fourth quarter long he picked them apart this way, with nearly half the Lakers' possessions in the fourth featuring LeBron post-ups.
He started out with an immediate fadeaway jumper out of the extended post.
To be fair to the Pelicans, there's really not much you can do when he starts hitting shots like that, but you still have to do your best to contest them. The problem is he creates so much separation when he fades that defenders have to really get up in his space to be in position to contest. And when they started cheating to get out on the jumper, LeBron would just use that to his advantage and spin past to the basket.
Obviously you can't let a guy as good as LeBron kill you with one-on-one moves all night long, so sometimes the Pelicans would try sending a double team. LeBron is such a good passer that it doesn't really work, but at least it forces other guys to hit shots. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, the Lakers were knocking down their 3s in this one.
This was just an absolute clinic by LeBron. Even in his 17th season, few players in the league can dictate a game like he can, and that ability will be a major factor come playoff time.