Bryant watches, LeBron sizzles

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James attempts to bulldoze past Denver Nuggets players Paul Millsap (left) and Gary Harris during the second half at Staples Centre on Thursday.
Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James attempts to bulldoze past Denver Nuggets players Paul Millsap (left) and Gary Harris during the second half at Staples Centre on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • LeBron James is only five games into life as a Laker but, if the forward needed any more inspiration as to what it takes to have his jersey hang from the rafters of the Staples Centre, he only had to look courtside.

Former great Kobe Bryant was in attendance for the first time this season and his presence rubbed off on the Los Angeles Lakers, who came from behind to beat the Denver Nuggets 121-114 on Thursday.

While it is far too early to include James - who notched his 74th career triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds - in the pantheon of Lakers legends, the 33-year-old will go some way to cementing his legacy in purple and gold if he can end their record five-season play-off drought.

The signs are looking more positive after the Lakers ended the Nuggets' unbeaten streak for their second National Basketball Association (NBA) win on the bounce, despite missing suspended pair Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo.

"We got stops. They are one of the best offensive teams we have in this league and, when you do that, you are able to get out and run," said James, who revealed to ESPN that it had been an honour to face off against one of his idols in Bryant.

"I didn't get an opportunity to share words with him, but I absolutely noticed him sitting there on the baseline," he added.

"An all-time Laker great, (with) what he has done for this franchise in the 20-plus years he was here.

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"It speaks wonders for me to compete against him all those years and for me to be able to share a jersey. For him to take the time to watch us play tonight was pretty cool."

Lakers coach Luke Walton admitted that the retired 18-time All-Star had raised the roof, with the crowd erupting after he appeared on the big screen.

"Yes, it's obvious," he said. "Everyone gets excited. Not just the staff, but the players, anyone who is part of the Lakers family.

"He is a huge part of this organisation. When he is in the building, it brings a little more."

James was not the only fired-up player, with Lance Stephenson, who Bryant praised as "really impressive", picking up where he left off in their previous victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Stephenson finished with 12 points but, more importantly, hit back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter to spark a 15-2 run.

"Make them dance, Lance. He was unbelievable, coming off what he did last night," said James.

Lonzo Ball, who had 12 points and was standing in for Rondo, also impressed with his all-round display, which James called "very cerebral".

"He's (Ball) a very gifted basketball player," James told ESPN. "When he's playing aggressive basketball and thinking shot first, everything else opens up for him. He has some of the quickest hands that this league has."

After giving the home fans their first taste of victory, the 14-time All-Star wants his teammates to build on their momentum against the San Antonio Spurs today.

"We have gotten better through all of our games and we want to try to continue that on Saturday," James said.

The Nuggets, who had been aiming for their first 5-0 start since the 2009-10 season, were paced by 24 points from Nikola Jokic.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline 'Bryant watches, LeBron sizzles'. Print Edition | Subscribe