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How LeBron James channeled inner NBA Jam in 50-point outburst vs. Wizards

Just like the video games he enjoyed as a kid, LeBron can still catch fire even at 37 years old.

LeBron James celebrates after two of his 50 points against the Wizards.

LOS ANGELES – LeBron James kept shaking his head. The Lakers’ star has never lacked confidence in himself with four NBA championships, delivering clutch performances and delaying Father Time.

Eventually, though, even James appeared in disbelief. Shortly before the Lakers sealed a 122-109 win over the Washington Wizards, James cemented a 50-point performance for the 14th time in his NBA career and the second time in less than a week. After drilling a 3-pointer over former Lakers teammate Kyle Kuzma, James moved his head in a clockwise motion. He then performed the crazy hand gesture toward his head, as if he were playing in a video game.

Just like what James did with “NBA Jam” as a kid more than two decades ago.

“I would definitely try to get on fire,” James said of the popular video game. “Back then, shooting from halfcourt was like something unheard of, and now guys are really doing it.”

James enjoyed imagining himself catching fire on NBA Jam’s two-man teams that included the former Seattle SuperSonics (Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp), Chicago Bulls (Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant), Dallas Mavericks (Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn) or Golden State Warriors (Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin). So many years later, James felt like he was playing a video game once again.

Unlike when he played NBA Jam, James did not attempt any half-court heaves against the Wizards. But he basically did everything else with an efficient shooting line from the field (18-for-25), from 3-point range (6-for-9) and from the free throw line (8-for-8). After scoring 56 points in last week’s win against the Golden State Warriors, James became the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 50 points in consecutive home games.

The Lakers needed every point. After suffering a two-game road losing streak this week in San Antonio (Monday) and Houston (Wednesday), the Lakers (29-37) trail the L.A. Clippers (35-34) by 4.5 games for the eighth seed and hold a 2.5 game cushion over the New Orleans Pelicans (27-40) for the ninth spot in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament.

“The league has never seen a player at this stage of his career do what he’s doing,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s the biggest thing that needs to be recognized. It’s unbelievable the level he’s playing at.”

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It sure is. In his 19th season, the 37-year-old James currently leads the NBA in scoring (29.71 points per game) over Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (29.68 ppg) and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.66). James remains the only player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point performances after age 35. And James joined Kobe Bryant and Elgin Baylor as the lone Lakers players to score more than 100 points in consecutive home games.

No wonder why James showed plenty of emotion. After he performed a spin move past Tomas Satoransky before laying the ball in the basket and drawing a foul, James let loose with a loud roar. James then approached a handful of courtside fans to yell some more. That marks a stark contrast from when James argued with fans two weeks ago during a loss to New Orleans.

“Lakers faithful knows when bad basketball is being played and they know when good basketball is being played. They have the right to have any response they want,” James said. “They’ve seen so many great teams, so many great individuals and so many great individual performances. There are so many great things in this building and over the course of this franchise.

“So for me being a part of this franchise, I try to give them an opportunity to have memorable nights as well and give them something to cheer for and give them something to feel good about on a nightly basis. I know it hasn’t been as great as they would like it to be this year. But you take the small wins when it comes.”

LeBron James dominates the Wizards with his 14th career 50-point game.

The Lakers’ “small win” did not just involve the result itself. They played against Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the first time since the Lakers included them as part of last summer’s trade for Russell Westbrook.

James hugged both players before and after the game. Early in the first quarter, the Lakers played a video tribute for both players and highlighted their contributions as valued role players on the Lakers’ 2020 NBA championship team. Later in the fourth quarter, James drilled a fadeaway jump shot over Kuzma before the two shared laughs and shook their head in disbelief.

“It’s always a welcoming feeling when you see one of your teammates that you were in the foxhole with to win a championship,” James said. “You know how much blood, sweat and tears and everything with that with trying to accomplish that.”

The Lakers are far from reaching that goal. Even with James’ stellar play, the Lakers have barely hovered around .500 amid overlapping injuries to Anthony Davis and various role players. Following his 56-point effort vs Golden State, James missed Monday’s loss in San Antonio with left knee soreness.

Yet, the Lakers discovered once again why they express endless optimism that they can solve their issues.

“I believe in our group, in our system and the habits that we drill and build with our guys every day,” Vogel said. “But obviously the large portion of the confidence comes from knowing he’s on our side.”

The Lakers will surely need James for Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (53-14), which have the Western Conference’s best record. Perhaps James makes history then, too. He remains two assists shy from becoming the first player in NBA history to record 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists.

It seems only possible to record such numbers in a video game. As James showed against the Wizards, he can mirror NBA Jam in real life.

“To be able to catch fire is something that you definitely would try to do,” James said. “As soon as you hit that half-court line, you would let it go.”

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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