When Paul George and LeBron James played against the Lakers last year, Staples Center, ever conscious of the NBA’s narratives, cheered them like they were members of the home team.
The fans hoped they both would be soon.
On Friday, when Anthony Davis’ name was called during player introductions, Davis too was cheered by an ever-optimistic crowd, not deterred by the New Orleans Pelicans’ forceful insistence they will not trade him.
The Lakers beat the Pelicans 112-104, and the two superstars playing in the game lived up to their billing despite having fought through illnesses earlier in the day. James notched his third triple-double of the season and the 76th of his career with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, seven of them in the first quarter. Davis scored 30 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.
Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 23 points, Brandon Ingram had 18 in his return to the lineup and all five starters scored in double figures. Ivica Zubac made his first start of the year and had season highs with 16 points with 11 rebounds.
Julius Randle, in his first game against the Lakers since leaving in free agency, scored 21 points. But the Pelicans scored only 39 points in the second half.
Julius Randle speaks on how he feels after leaving LakersDEC 21, 2018 | 9:10 PM
“The defense we played in the second half, that’s what I’m talking about,” coach Luke Walton said. “That’s the team we have to be.”
Davis and James both missed shoot-around because they felt ill. While there was little doubt about James playing, Davis was a game-time decision.
The Lakers were without center JaVale McGee, who missed his third straight game with a respiratory infection and flu-like symptoms. While Zubac and Tyson Chandler also were not feeling well earlier in the day, both played, with Zubac playing more minutes (32) than he did in his five other games this month combined.
Despite the illness going around, the Lakers’ rotation was healthier than it had been in a while, with Ingram (sprained ankle) and Rajon Rondo (broken hand) both returning. Rondo had been sidelined since Nov. 14.
“It was really nice having our guys back,” Walton said. “Brandon made winning plays all game long. … I thought he did a really nice job of watching what the team has been doing while he’s been hurt and coming in and playing the same way. Rondo gave us a big spark in the first half as well.”
Rondo contributed early, scoring seven points in five first-half minutes. Zubac was the Lakers’ leading scorer in the first quarter, with eight points. Davis, meanwhile, scored 11 first-quarter points and the game was tied at 34 after a quarter.
Randle led the way in the second quarter, leading all scorers with 11 points, but by then James’ shot was warm. He scored nine points in the quarter with four rebounds, two assists and two steals, and the Lakers took a 69-65 halftime lead.
“Offensively it was a brilliant first half for us,” Walton said. “I think we had 20 assists in the first half.”
The Lakers took a double-digit lead in the third quarter, but New Orleans hung around. A three-pointer by Los Angeles native Jrue Holiday to close the quarter cut the lead to six.
The Pelicans pulled with five with 3:29 left in the game, but James answered with a layup and the defense got stops to close it out.
The game offered a testament to just how tight the West is this year. The Lakers (19-13) sit No. 4 in the West while the Pelicans (15-18) own the conference’s third-worst record, but only 41/2 games separate them. The Lakers sit three back of Denver, two back of Golden State and Oklahoma City.