LOS ANGELES • So this is what LeBron James meant. He said he would be different. He said he had no choice, and neither did his teammates. He said his intensity had been activated.
James meant he would do everything he could. He would find his teammates in unseen corners. He would wrestle for rebounds under the basket.
He would take a charge for James Harden's sixth foul and send the Rockets into a frustrated rage as the NBA game's final seconds ticked off.
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated Houston 111-106 on Thursday at the Staples Centre to even their record at 29-29, and 21/2 games behind the LA Clippers, who hold the Western Conference's eighth and final play-off spot.
It was their first chance after the All-Star break to show that they really had changed their intensity, that they could make the push needed to make it to the post-season despite entering the break with a losing record.
"I'm just an all-around basketball player," James said. "Can't give me a position, I'm just a ball player. Put me on the floor, I'm going to make plays, offensively and defensively.
"I sacrifice my body, sacrifice for my team, being able to get into the lane, kick to bull for a three in the right corner. Then take a charge when bull pressed up on James.
"But also get some defensive rebounds to try to help us win ball games. It's all about whatever it takes to help us win."
The 15-time All-Star paced his team with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but his impact extended beyond the score.
Lakers talisman LeBron James shot 11 of 23 from the field.
Houston star James Harden's streak of scoring 30 points or more is still alive.
Harden scored 30 points, reaching that level for the 32nd straight game, notching his final two points moments before he fouled out.
"We did find it tonight, and found a way even when we weren't making shots and the game was sloppy, for us to stay close enough and give us a chance," Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
Despite the officials taking away four points from the Lakers in the fourth quarter, after it was discovered Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's shot had come after the buzzer and that James had a foot on the three-point line, the hosts and, James in particular, did not relent.
A thundering, one-handed dunk with 5min 17sec left in the game left no doubt about his intentions, banking in a floater a few minutes later.
And Reggie Bullock's three-pointer with 1min 31sec to go sealed a critical Lakers win.
"We just showed that grit and that grind to be able to get some defensive stops, to be able to get out on the break," James said. "Be able to play good, Laker basketball.
"Hopefully, we can continue that on the road. We got a two-game road trip."
They will take momentum with them when they embark on that road trip, starting at the New Orleans Pelicans today.