James off to losing start

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James soars to the hoop for a dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers in Thursday's 128-119 loss. The Lakers have lost to Portland 16 times in a row.
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James soars to the hoop for a dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers in Thursday's 128-119 loss. The Lakers have lost to Portland 16 times in a row.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LeBron's 26 points not enough in opening loss to Portland, says Lakers need time to gel

PORTLAND (Oregon) • LeBron James made sure that his first points with the Los Angeles Lakers were emphatic, soaring for a rim-rattling dunk that got plenty of fans out of their seats.

But the rest of his evening did not go so smoothly.

The Portland Trail Blazers spoilt his much-anticipated debut on Thursday by pulling away with a 128-119 victory at the Moda Centre, in the National Basketball Association (NBA) season opener for both teams.

James, who signed a four-year, US$154 million (S$212 million) deal to join the Lakers in July, finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a game that was both chaotic and entertaining.

The Blazers got an unexpected boost from Nik Stauskas, who somehow managed to outshine James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, by scoring 24 points off the bench.

The Lakers struggled with their outside shooting, going seven of 30 from three-point range as they suffered a 16th straight loss to Portland dating back to March 2014.

James insisted that miracles do not happen overnight.

  • THE KING'S LOS ANGELES DEBUT

  • POINTS 26

    REBOUNDS 12

    ASSISTS 6

"It's not instant oatmeal. It's not that fast," he said of his new team's hopes of a title. "It takes some time to get that chemistry where you can just close your eyes and know exactly where guys are.

"But I liked our fight to get back into the game when we were down double digits. I liked the way we competed at times. I liked the way we shared the ball as well. Those were all positive."

Few pundits expect the Lakers to vie for a championship this season. They are too young, their chemistry is too raw, and the Western Conference is already loaded with contenders, a batch of heavyweights led by the Golden State Warriors, who are favourites to win a third straight title.

But at 33, James is still a force, and he seemed to send a statement early in the game. In about nine minutes of playing time before he took his first breather, he collected 13 points on five-of-six shooting, three rebounds and an assist.

But the rest of his night was full of challenges. He was called for his third foul with just over six minutes left in the second quarter and went to the bench.

His absence could have been problematic for the Lakers, who were already trailing by double digits. But his teammates picked up the slack, and the Blazers led by just two at half-time.

The Lakers missed their first 15 three-point attempts before Josh Hart (20 points) connected from long range for an 85-83 lead late in the third quarter.

But Portland were solid down the stretch behind their All-Star back-court of Damian Lillard (28 points) and C.J. McCollum (21 points).

Despite the defeat, Lakers coach Luke Walton was impressed with the "calming" impact James had on his younger players.

"I am glad he is on our team. The way he can control and lead from the front is impressive," he said.

"He keeps the guys calm, especially on the road in a hostile environment. When the other team is going on the run, he has a calming way about him.

"I'm obviously thrilled that he is with us and looking forward to the rest of the season."

The Lakers will play their first home game today (tomorrow, Singapore time) against the Houston Rockets at Staples Centre.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'James off to losing start'. Print Edition | Subscribe