LeBron James drives in the preseason against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 2, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

LeBron Thrills in STAPLES Center Debut

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

For the first time as a Laker, LeBron James was introduced in Los Angeles and greeted by a roar from the hometown fans.

“You hear, ‘16th campaign from St. Vincent-St. Mary,’” Josh Hart said, “you just hear the crowd like, ‘All right, it’s a little different.’ Even [James] said it. … It was loud, it was lit.”

LeBron didn’t disappoint the sold-out crowd that came to see him, collecting 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in only 15 minutes of work during the Lakers’ 113-111 preseason loss to Denver.

James took the game in his grasp midway through the first quarter, striking in some way or another on five straight possessions.

In a one-minute, 25-second span, James: bounced a pass to JaVale McGee for an and-1 layup; hit a runner off the backboard; fired an outlet to Josh Hart; sparked a fast-break with a block; and sunk a mid-range jumper.

James was particularly effective in transition. In addition to that bank shot, he added a pull-up 3-pointer and soared for a vicious slam that sent the home crowd into hysterics.

It was indicative of the Lakers’ entire night. They shot 51.2 percent from the field, handed out 28 assists and socred 27 fast-break points.

At times, the Lakers were too pass-happy, deferring open shots in attempt to find even better ones.

“We were a little too unselfish, but that’s good for us right now,” James said. “As we continue to learn one another, we wanna make the extra pass, go from a good shot to a great shot.”

It got to the point where they even confused coach Luke Walton.

“I thought they were messing me, they passed so many times,” Walton said. “And a lot of them were open shots. But still, in the preseason 100 percent I’ll take that.”

Walton was also happy with the play of Josh Hart, who had 14 points and four assists in his first start of the preseason.

“Whenever I start, I’m usually a little more aggressive on the offensive end,” Hart said. “It was good to get out there, run with those guys. I didn’t have the opportunity as much to run with those guys in the first game.”

Hart was excellent attacking the rim, where four of his six buckets came from. He even served as the roll man on a pick-and-roll with Rajon Rondo — highly unusual for a 6-foot-5 shooting guard.

“You see me on my big man [game]?” Hart asked. “Y’all see me? Yeah man, I’m a roller now.”

Walton thought that Hart “brought a toughness and an edge” to the starting lineup, due to his willingness to make plays like fighting over screens and grabbing rebounds.

He also embodied Walton’s desire for positional versatility, particularly on that roll.

“I’ve practiced playing the four in practice in the small-ball lineups,” Hart said. “Setting picks, rolling, popping. That’s something that I’ve worked on this offseason. I didn’t expect it to go exactly like that in the game, but [Rajon] Rondo gave me a good pass — I was just able to finish it.”

Hart added that starting center JaVale McGee could be a bit worried by his big-man impression.

“He should,” Hart joked. “I might have to start at the five.”

That seems unlikely with the way McGee has played through two exhibitions. He has led the Lakers in scoring both times, going for 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocks on this night.

McGee feasted off the playmaking of James and Rajon Rondo, while providing excellent rim protection on the defensive side.

Rondo also had a strong game, handing out seven assists and scoring 11 points — including three 3-pointers on as many attempts, as Denver gave him way too much space to shoot.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (six points) came off the bench due to Hart’s start. … Rookie Isaac Bonga had a chance to shoot a game-winning 3-pointer, but passed the ball as time expired. … With Jamal Murray (ankle) and Gary Harris (hamstring) out, Denver was led by Mason Plumlee’s 23 points on 11-of-11 shooting.

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