LOS ANGELES • The Los Angeles Lakers are on course to win the National Basketball Association (NBA) Western Conference, but LeBron James has urged his team not to think too far ahead and just focus on playing "championship basketball" every game.
The star forward welcomed LaMelo Ball back to Los Angeles with a 37-point performance on Thursday night, lifting the Lakers to a 116-105 victory over the visiting Charlotte Hornets.
Shooting for a third straight and 100th career triple-double, James also contributed eight rebounds and six assists to the NBA champions' fourth consecutive win.
They improved to 28-13 and are now 11/2 games behind the league-leading Utah Jazz - who were beaten 131-122 by the Washington Wizards - with their sixth victory in eight games.
"We haven't really talked about it," James said of the Western Conference race in a truncated 72-game season.
"If it gets to a point where we can capture it, why not? But we haven't talked about seeding all year.
"We've gotten better since the (All-Star) break, but the most important things for our ball club is playing championship basketball every night and being healthy."
His 37-point performance was his ninth game with 30-plus points this season. His high was 46 at Cleveland on Jan 25.
Ball, the former star at Chino Hills High in the Los Angeles suburbs, put on a nice show in his Staples Centre NBA debut. He led the Hornets with 26 points while also finding time for five rebounds and seven assists.
"Definitely felt good playing out here," he said post-game while wearing a LA Dodgers cap.
"It felt good, but not too good because we didn't get the win. The whole team knows we can compete. It's just about putting it together and playing hard."
His 26-point total was eight shy of his season-best, set against the Jazz on Feb 5. It was his 14th game with 20 points or more and his eighth game with at least 20 points and seven assists.
The Lakers were mostly in command, but a third-quarter push allowed the Hornets to draw even at 64-all on a Ball lay-up.
Los Angeles were up 83-78 entering the fourth period and then just 86-85 when Ball nailed a three-pointer with 10min 13sec left.
However, the Lakers' Markieff Morris connected on consecutive hoops, James added a jumper and Dennis Schroder buried a trey in a 10-0 burst that broke the game open.