LeBron James
(Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images)

Lakers explode in the first half, cruise to another home win

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES – It was a tale of two halves.

The first 24 minutes of Sunday night’s win against the Hawks were nothing short of a demolition, with the Lakers giving the home crowd a taste of their unlimited potential.

Despite the fact that Anthony Davis didn’t get his first bucket until late in the second quarter, L.A. went to the locker room up by 28 points – a gulf that could’ve been deeper were it not for some Trae Young heroics and a less than stellar first shift by Frank Vogel’s second unit.

To put it in perspective, LeBron James was +41 at the end of the first half – all to the delight of Kobe Bryant (and his daughter Gianna), who watched from their seats across the Lakers bench as the purple and gold put on a show on the parquet.

“It was fantastic,” James said of playing in front of the franchise legend. “I know he came to a game last year and just having him in the building, just knowing what he meant to this franchise, to L.A., and for me and my teammates, what it means to be a part of Laker Nation and Laker family, is a beautiful thing. For me, I grew up watching, admiring. I was one of the kids that had the chance to come straight out of high school. He did it, so I was just watching him. It’s just so surreal for me, as a kid from Akron, to be able to have a guy like Kobe take time out of his day, even at this point in my career, is still special.”

A quick glance at the roster – talented, balanced, and experience – helps in predicting these types of nights, especially when JaVale McGee sets the tone on the defensive end like he did on Sunday.

The big man from Flint had a pair of rebounds and blocks (plus a steal) within the first four minutes of action. A deuce with 5:19 to go in the first quarter would end up being his lone basket. However, by the time he went to the bench for his first breather, the Lakers were up 33-9.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a similar night, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the opening stanza in a flurry that saw him become the preferred target to James’ outlet passes.

Add Danny Green’s trio of long-range missiles and you have the formula for a 36-point first quarter, and eventually, a 69-point half in which the Lakers shot over 57% from the field and won the rebounding battle 27-17.

Defensively, the Lakers built a wall near the rim, notching 10 blocks and limiting the Hawks to just 18 points in the paint in the first half.

Execution was clearly a factor, but so was the supreme level of effort – exemplified best by Green on this sequence:

The dunk essentially sealed the game, even though the Hawks rallied to get within 10 near the end of the third quarter. A quick 10-0 ended the threat, and King James took care of the rest, leading a stretch of high octane offense to close it out in the fourth.

He again did it all, draining 6 threes to lead the Lakers with 33 points on 13-for-21 from the field.

Vogel put extra emphasis on his contributions on the defensive end, and even more so on the way he’s been taking care of the ball despite an increase in his usage rating.

“He’s playing at an extraordinarily high level and dominating,” Vogel said. “His effort on the defensive end has really spread throughout the group, and the group has bought into being dominant on the defensive end of the floor. We saw that in the first quarter, with how we just controlled the game from the start. Offensively, his shot-making, his decision-making, zero turnovers, 12 assists… Are you kidding me?”

James is leading the NBA in assists per game (11.2) and is dishing 3.72 assists for every turnover. He also upped his 3PT% to 34.2.

Through 13 games, the Ohio seems to be en route to another MVP-caliber season.

“The environment around is better,” added Vogel. “Obviously he’s very motivated for how things went in his first year with the Lakers. He’s playing at a special level.”

And so are the Lakers, now sitting atop the standings at 11-2.

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