At the start of the night, it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers might be due for just their second win ever against a LeBron James team, and first since a 2011 squad led by Baron Davis managed an upset victory over The King when he was in Miami.
But James, DJ Augustin, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Lakers had other ideas, overcoming a lethargic first few minutes to finish out their four-game road trip with one of their most fun and impressive victories of the year, eventually beating the Cavs 131-120.
The Lakers began the game with another one of their now-patented slow starts, trailing 20-11 in Cleveland before Augustin entered the game to give the team a spark off the bench. Augustin promptly hit his next three triples before capping his mini-run with a driving layup, scoring 11 points in his first five minutes of play. He finished the first half 5-5 from deep for a bench-high 17 points in just 13 minutes.
The only player to score more in the first 24 minutes was James (21 first-half points), but he saved his best theatrics for the second half (other than his ruthless posterization of former teammate and fellow NBA senior citizen Kevin Love).
37-year-old LeBron James. pic.twitter.com/GEEpfG1TKI— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) March 22, 2022
Over the final two quarters, James put the finishing touches on a triple-double of 38 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists that somehow undersells his two-way impact. James was as engaged on the glass as he has been in any game this season — and as nuclear-hot as he’s been since a Cavaliers scout pissed him off the last time the team played in Cleveland — seemingly taking it as a personal challenge to add “ending possessions” to the already long list of things he has to do almost by himself for this team.
He also picked the Cavaliers apart with both his passing and scoring in the halfcourt down the stretch, putting on one of his now-countless career shows in Cleveland and offering another reminder that on any given night, he can still be the absolutely most impactful player in the NBA. Even at 37 years old.
On this night, though, he had help. In addition to the aforementioned Augustin, who ended the night with 20 points on 6-6 shooting from deep, the Lakers also got a big lift from Westbrook for the third game in a row. The polarizing guard appears to have found a bit of a rhythm over the last three games, and he’s punishing teams for playing off of him with his jumper, finishing 7-14 from the field to score 20 points and notch 11 assists against the Cavaliers.
If this is the type of play the team can start to expect from him, then maybe this group isn’t quite as dead in the water as many of us thought. They’ll need a lot more than a nice little string of games to prove that, but every run has to start somewhere, and they at least appear to be trying again. That may sound like backhanded praise, but it’s also accurate, and progress is progress. Even if it’s likely coming too late, at least this team has been watchable again. That’s worth something.
This victory allowed the Lakers to finish their road trip 2-2, moving them to 31-41 on the year. The team will now ride this high all the way home from their road trip, and get Tuesday off before hosting the Philadelphia 76ers at home on Wednesday. For the first time in a while, it’s hard to not actually be curious about how they’ll look in that one, and if they can keep any of this momentum going.