It’s not fair for the Lakers to need LeBron James to be this good at age 37. But they do. At this point, especially without Anthony Davis, that’s just reality for this haphazardly slapped together mismash of mishapen parts. And against the Wizards, it was enough, as James lit a fire under the Lakers with his effort and production to start the second half and lead the team to a 122-109 comeback win over Washington.
James checked out to a standing ovation with 50 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists for his second straight 50-point game at The Crypt, where the Lakers unfortunately only have six games remaining this season.
The two teams played a mostly close first 20ish minutes, but as is their normal modus operandi, the Lakers let go of the rope to close a quarter. This time they did so in the second frame, and after being tied at 47 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the half, the Lakers allowed the Wizards 12-5 in the final few minutes to enter halftime with a 59-52 lead that was less commanding than it could have been had a couple more open shots fallen for them.
But then it didn’t matter, because LeBron decided it didn’t. He scored 16 points in the third period alone, and his effort allowed L.A. to outscore Washington 37-23 in the quarter and lead by seven heading into the fourth after trailing by the same amount at halftime.
James, Malik Monk (21 points, 8-12 shooting) and the suddenly explosive Talen Horton-Tucker (15 points, 7-16 shooting) then kept things rolling in the final frame, giving the Lakers their first double-digit lead of the game with a little over five minutes remaining. It was an advantage they would never relinquish as they spent most of the remaining time in regulation celebrating each other’s highlights, cruising to victory with a level of joy rarely seen from this squad.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that closing run started nearly the second Russell Westbrook went to the bench. Westbrook was putrid against his old team, shooting 2-11 from the field to finish with 5 points and 1 turnover. He did have 9 assists, but it’s just not quite enough to make up for how much he cramps this team’s spacing, flow and defensive intensity when James is rolling like this.
The Lakers (29-37) will now get Saturday off to rest (and travel) before facing the No. 1-seeded Suns in Phoenix on Sunday. It’s the start of a stretch that will see the purple and gold play five of their next six games on the road as they look to continue their attempts to hang on to the West’s ninth seed and a play-in tournament berth. With this win, they are 2.5 games ahead of the faltering, sick and banged-up Pelicans.
But while it’s not fair to expect it every night, if James keeps playing anything like this with any consistency, they’ll be in good shape in that depressing hunt.