A bit of magic in LA's win at Blazers

LeBron brushes aside Johnson-Walton spat, helps Lakers end losing run against Portland

PORTLAND • LeBron James was not going to let the squabble between Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and coach Luke Walton derail his team's chances of ending their Portland Trail Blazers hoodoo.

James had already tasted defeat in Portland in their season-opener and, with the Trail Blazers aiming to match their longest win streak over an opposing team in franchise history - they won 17 straight against the Los Angeles Clippers from 1986-89 - he was aware he had to bring his A-game.

And so the 14-time All-Star did, scoring a team-high 28 points, passing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds as the visitors ended a 16-game skid against the home team in a run dating back to March 3, 2014, with a 114-110 National Basketball Association win on Saturday.

Afterwards, James claimed that the off-court drama - ESPN reported on Friday that Johnson had berated Walton for the Lakers' tepid start to the season (4-5) - had put the team up "in a position" for the long-awaited victory at the Moda Centre.

"I mean, it's great to win, period," the forward, who refused to take sides, told ESPN. "Listen, coaching staff put us in a position to win, and it's up to us to go up and execute.

"Luke can care less about what's going on outside. We could as well. I'm the last person to ask about scrutiny or anything of that nature. So none of that stuff matters to me. The only thing that matters to me is what goes on inside this locker room, both home and away."

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James dunking the ball on Portland Trail Blazers centre Jusuf Nurkic in the second half of Saturday's game. The Lakers won 114-110, after having lost 16 straight games against the Trail Blazers.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James dunking the ball on Portland Trail Blazers centre Jusuf Nurkic in the second half of Saturday's game. The Lakers won 114-110, after having lost 16 straight games against the Trail Blazers. PHOTO: REUTERS

It was far from an easy match-up for the Lakers, with the Trail Blazers nearly coming back from a 20-point deficit early in the fourth quarter.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum each scored 30 points for the Blazers, who got to within 112-108 with 10.6 seconds on the clock after Meyers Leonard scored on a dunk.

The Lakers, who are hoping to make the play-offs for the first time since 2013 following heightened expectations with the summer acquisition of James, also had to depend on Rajon Rondo's strong contribution off the bench and JaVale McGee's defensive output.

Rondo, who was suspended for three games following the Oct 20 brawl in the Houston Rockets game, had 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Walton lauded him as "one of the elite point guards in this league for a lot of years".

"He orchestrated a beautiful game tonight," the 38-year-old said of Rondo. "He always has the freedom to call what he wants, call what he sees."

EXECUTE AND WIN

I mean, it's great to win, period. Listen, coaching staff put us in a position to win, and it's up to us to go up and execute.

LEBRON JAMES, Los Angeles Lakers forward, on the team not affected by the off-court drama between Lakers' top official Magic Johnson and head coach Luke Walton.

James also hailed the numbers put up by McGee, who had six blocks and is the NBA's stat leader this season, as a "Defensive Player of the Year candidate".

"He shouldn't be in the conversation. He is the conversation," the 33-year-old added, before saying that it would do the team a world of good to have finally gotten over their Portland "hump".

"For us to be able to snap that (run) versus a very good team and for us to come here, we haven't played as well as we'd like to on the road in one of the most hostile buildings in the Western Conference, it was a good win for us."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2018, with the headline 'A bit of magic in LA's win at Blazers'. Print Edition | Subscribe