(News4usonline) – Since the NBA All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers have won two games. Both of those games called for LeBron James going off for 50 points or more.
Both wins came after losing streaks. After going on a four-game skid following the All-Star intermission, James scored 56 points in the Lakers’ 124-116 home win against the Golden State Warriors back on March 5.
The Lakers then promptly went on to lose their next two games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets. Yes, those same Rockets that have won a grand sum of 17 games and sit at the bottom of the Western Conference.
So, up next on the Lakers’ schedule were the mighty Washington Wizards, the team where former Lakers Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were shipped in a trade. A lot has changed since the Lakers parted ways from Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope.
Kuzma, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Lakers, is balling out this season, averaging just over 17 points a game. Caldwell-Pope, a nine-year NBA veteran, is averaging 12.2 points a game. Both Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope were of the Lakers team that won the NBA title in the bubble in 2020.
That is neither here nor there because neither Kuzma nor Caldwell or the Lakers could probably imagine the trajectory pathways they’re on.
Unless James makes them relevant and keeps pushing the MVP envelope, the Lakers are the second-best team in Los Angeles and barely clinging on to the last possible playoff spot (No.9 Western Conference). At the moment, the Wizards are on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason with a No. 11 seeding currently in the Eastern Conference.
And so, here it was with Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope, and the Wizards holding a 59-52 halftime lead, the Lakers who are 3-7 in their last 10 games, needed to be rescued by James again. In a game-decisive third quarter in which the Lakers outscored the Wizards 37-23 to take control of the game, James dominated.
James dropped 19 points on Washington in the third period. James then finished off the Wizards with 14 more points in the fourth quarter to lead Los Angeles to a 122-109 win at Crypto.com Arena.
James wound up with 50 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the Lakers’ winning effort. It was the 14th time in his career that James scored 50 or more points in a game. And so how would Lakers head coach Frank Vogel evaluate James’ performance?
“He’s really good at basketball. I hope that answers your question,” Vogel said. “I think what stands out to me is the league has never seen a player at this stage of his career do what he’s doing. I think that’s the biggest thing that needs to be recognized. It’s just unbelievable the level that he’s playing at. Maybe after all these years, him playing center was really the best way to utilize him.”
Vogel penciled in James as the team’s starting center.
If James had not gone for the 33 points he tallied in the second half, the Lakers would still be mired in a losing skid. Securing the win was a good antidote for the team, James said in a postgame press conference.
“It felt good because it was an all-around team effort,” remarked James. “Washington played extremely well, especially those first two quarters. For us to be able to come in in the third quarter, that’s been one of our down quarters this year, held them to 23 points in that third and run off 37. It was big for our team, big for our ball club.”
As spectacular as the offensive display that James put on, the Lakers’ defense sealed the deal in the second half. After surrendering 33 points in the second quarter to Washington, the Lakers went on defensive lockdown mode in the last half of the game.
Los Angeles held the Wizards to 23 points in the third quarter and 27 points in the final period to earn its 29th win of the season.
“They came out ultra-aggressive,” Washington head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “We had momentum a little bit at the end of the second going into the half. They came out as the aggressor attacking the paint. Obviously, we struggled to score. That showed probably later in the second half, third quarter, but we let that ball stick too much – one pass, no pass possessions. That’s a tough way to play against a quality defensive team.”
The return back to Lakerland didn’t exactly turn out to be what Kuzma had in mind, in terms of the Wizards losing to the Lakers. But the high-flying forward still has plenty of love for the team that drafted him.
“It means I got a legacy here,” said Kuzma, who scored 23 points in his team’s defeat. “At the end of the day, this is the team that drafted me, spent four years here. Laker Nation, and being a Laker is forever in my heart. We won a championship here, we did a lot of great things, I established myself. It’s really cool. I’m just a kid from Flint, Michigan at the end of the day. I always think about that, how being from a small town, coming to LA, and just making some noise.”