After two embarrassing losses to the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers redeemed themselves Wednesday night. It came against the Pelicans, who this time were playing with Anthony Davis.
Despite that, Lakers head coach Luke Walton went with a small-ball starting lineup featuring Kyle Kuzma at center in order to re-insert Rajon Rondo at point guard.
While the Lakers got off to a much better start, Davis and Julius Randle’s size started to become an issue as the Pelicans took the lead in the third quarter.
However, four consecutive dunks by Kuzma (three) and James (one) completely changed the momentum of the game. “We needed that,” Walton said following the 125-119 win over the Pelicans which included James’ three-point dagger.
“The energy had kind of gotten sucked out of us and we weren’t making shots. I went to the bench and told them, ‘This is what we’ve been talking about. We’re hitting adversity right now. They’re on a run, it’s the second half.’
“The guys on the court did a helluva job forcing the action, attacking the rim, making those plays. It got the building going again and it got our group going. That was a big moment for us.”
James, who started to look more like himself for the first time since the groin strain, agreed with Walton’s assessment. “We just had to get our composure back,” James said. “We’ve been talking about sticking together no matter if teams make a run or not. I thought we did that.
“Kuz was able to get that dunk down the middle, then he was able to get another one down the middle. Then ‘Do hit me streaking, with ‘Do’s quarterback skills and my wide receiver skills, I was able to get one down the middle. … It was huge momentum plays for our ballclub, which the fans love.”
While James’ helped electrify the Staples Center crowd with his one-handed hammer, his 3-pointer in the fourth quarter was just as key. “I told him I was going to run out on the court to call a timeout because we had nothing,” Walton said.
“When he released it, I’m pretty sure he called it. I think he had his hands in the air before it went in. That’s what great players do. That’s an impossible shot, and we needed it at that moment because we had kind of stalled out offensively. A big-time shot by one of the all-time greats.”
With the Clippers and Sacramento Kings both losing, the Lakers further helped their playoff chances by ending a two-game losing streak. They currently remain three games back of the Clippers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference with just 21 games remaining in the season.
While it was a much-needed win, James and the Lakers will need to improve their defense if they want to have a legitimate chance of ending their five-year playoff drought.
Reminder: Vivid Seats is the Official Ticket Reseller of LakersNation.com. New Customers use “LAKERSNATION” (all CAPS) in the Vivid Seats App on your phone and get 10% off any Lakers home game ticket order for the remainder of the season.