LeBron James vs. Denver
LeBron James grabs a rebound against the Denver Nuggets in the preseason on Sept. 30, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

LeBron James Makes Lakers Debut in Preseason Opener

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

SAN DIEGO — The LeBron James era of Lakers basketball began on an orange court emblazoned by a silhouette of a surfer.

In this unlikely setting, a familiar sound surrounded James: the cheers of a packed arena. When P.A. announcer Lawrence Tanter boomed the introduction for a certain forward from St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School, the crowd lost their minds.

“It was great to get back on the floor and then start a new journey for myself,” James said. “Hear our Lakers fans that we have in San Diego. It was a great feeling to go out there and hear the roar of the fans here.”

The Lakers limited their superstar’s playing time in the preseason opener, as James saw only 15 minutes of L.A.’s 124-107 loss to Denver. It was a modest night for LeBron, who finished with nine points, three assists and three rebounds.

James originally only planned to play one shift, but decided to return to the game in the second quarter. He began his Lakers tenure with a no-look dime to Brandon Ingram, and also added a couple 3-pointers, including a slick step-back over Nikola Jokic.

“From wearing a St. Vincent-St. Mary’s jersey to a Cavs jersey,” James said, “from a Cavs jersey to a Heat jersey, back to a Cavs jersey [and] now being a Laker — it definitely feels different and will take a little time getting used to.”

James and the rest of the Lakers’ starters — Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Ingram and JaVale McGee — largely outplayed Denver’s first unit.

Still, it was definitely a trial run for a Lakers team that has only put in one or two defensive coverages, and a handful of offensive sets. Some of the lineups they played haven’t even practiced together.

But it helps to have a four-time MVP in one’s corner.

“It was awesome,” coach Luke Walton said. “When you’re coaching the Lakers and look out and see LeBron wearing your team’s colors, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

McGee led the Lakers with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting (plus seven rebounds), as he was a constant lob threat, both in transition and out of pick-and-rolls. Ingram also knifed through the Nuggets’ defense, scoring 16 points with three steals.

Lance Stephenson provided an efficient punch of the bench, adding a dozen points on a 4-of-5 clip, including three sizzling possessions when he splashed against an opposing big.

Yet perhaps no new Laker had as much of an impact as Rajon Rondo, despite scoring only two points on three shots.

Rondo nonetheless showed his brilliance, dishing 11 assists in only 23 minutes. He began the game by immediately firing an alley-oop to McGee off the opening tip, and continued to dazzle with bounce passes, underhanded dimes and more.

For good measure, he also added seven rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

However, the Lakers’ reserves mostly struggled. With Lonzo Ball recovering from offseason knee surgery, the bench often found itself playing without a point guard.

A Stephenson 3-pointer gave the Lakers a 75-73 lead with 5:20 left in the third quarter, but they were outscored 51-32 the remainder of the way.

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Michael Beasley left the game due to a head laceration. … President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka sat courtside. … Kyle Kuzma scored 15 points, but shot just 4-of-13. … Denver was led by Juan Hernangomez’s 19 points.

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