The L.A. Lakers kicked off 2023 by beating the Charlotte Hornets on the road 121-115. LeBron James followed up on his birthday performance with another stellar night, leading the Lakers in points for the seventh straight game in a row. He had 43 on the night, including making three free throws late to seal the game.
It wasn’t just the LBJ show; Thomas Bryant led the team in rebounds with 15 — and Austin Reaves had a bounce-back game after a couple of poor offensive performances, adding 15 off the bench.
Despite the overall easy win, the game was rocky in the first. Patrick Beverley had his Shaqtin’-a-fool moment when he tried to lob to James, which led to a travel call when the pass failed and he ended up being the first player to get to the ball.
Pat Bev really overthrew Bron on the oop pic.twitter.com/Ny2VrjeZVY— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 3, 2023
That wasn’t the only turnover of the quarter; L.A. had five of their 15 turnovers in the first, allowing Charlotte to stay in the game early. After closing the quarter on a 7-0 run, the Hornets were only down by one after one.
In the second, the Lakers ran away with the game. Reaves finally scored 13 in the quarter, the team went on a 14-0 run, and Pat Bev redeemed his awful turnover with a few key threes to break the game wide open. Following a poor PJ Washington in-bound pass, the Lakers converted a buzzer-beating bucket to take a 15-point lead into halftime.
Inspired by this tweet, I looked up the Lakers' third quarter net rating and the numbers match the eye test. Only the Magic (-12.9) are worse in third quarters than the Lakers (-12.4). https://t.co/eZXkgEIZID— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 2, 2023
The Lakers have been one of the worse teams in the third quarter in the NBA, so a 15-point lead was not a guaranteed victory for the purple and gold. However, James made sure that tonight would be different. He went nuclear in the quarter. He scored in every conceivable way — three-point shots, mid-range fadeaways and an alley-oop reverse dunk that ignited this road crowd and turned Buzz City into Laker Nation.
He's unreal. Just absolutely unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/1XvVwfhREO— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) January 3, 2023
The fourth still had its moments of nervousness. Russell Westbrook was ruled out for the rest of the game with left foot soreness, and the Hornets went on a 10-1 run to start the quarter. However, after Dennis Schröder crossed over Dennis Smith Jr., James followed that up by backing down Smith Jr. for a basket, and the Lakers kept the Hornets at bay for a bit longer.
The Hornets just wouldn’t go away. Terry Rozier hit a three with 1:27 left to cut the lead to six, but the Lakers countered with a Bryant putback dunk, Schröder hitting back-to-back free throws and James making three of four from the charity stripe to secure win number 16.
Good teams beat bad teams, and while I’m not sure if you can call the Lakers a good team, you can absolutely call the Hornets a bad team. Still, winning a game comfortably has been a rarity for this Laker team and starting a new year with a win is good.
Speaking of good, LeBron has done all you can ask for from a superstar — raising this team’s ceiling and carrying them to victory on back-to-back games. Is that ideal? No, but it’s been entertaining to watch his Herculean efforts over the past couple of games. We’ll see if he can keep it going on Wednesday against Miami.