LeBron James and Lakers end a month of tests and adversity with dominant win

LeBron James and Lakers end a month of tests and adversity with dominant win

LeBron James stopped a handful of steps on the other side of the mid-court line, his feet planted and his eyes centered on the rim. And after the ball swished through the hoop just before the halftime buzzer, James extended his right arm and quickly chopped down as if to say “count it.”

They did. It put the Lakers up 29.

The team closed out its February schedule with more exclamation points than a Magic Johnson tweet, battering the Golden State Warriors 117-91 in a game that was over even before James’ buzzer beater.

Even with Anthony Davis stuck on the sidelines in tattered denim, it was the kind of performance that made you believe that this team was good enough to accomplish any of its goals — so defensively stout and so offensively skilled and energized.

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It was, however, one day of 28 in the month, a stretch of games that codified the immense challenges the Lakers face today and the ones that are yet to come.

The Lakers opened the month on a winning streak that stretched to seven games, but in the winning, the seeds of the adversity that would soon bloom began to sprout.

Davis landed on the injury report and missed two games with a sore Achilles tendon, a massive red flag. James took on huge minutes in three-straight overtime games (kicked off by a double-overtime win) against inferior opponents playing with incomplete rosters.

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They lost Davis again when he took a false step against the Denver Nuggets, forcing the team and its fans to hold their breath while tests confirmed that his season wasn’t over. And then with Dennis Schroder forced into a quarantine after a potential COVID-19 exposure, the team dropped four-straight, including lopsided losses to Brooklyn and Utah.

To one man, it was all predictable.

Steve Kerr, Golden State’s head coach, has won five NBA championships as a player and three more as a coach — the titles providing him with plenty of opportunities to repeat, making him one of the NBA’s foremost experts on the topic.

In normal circumstances, the journey back to the NBA’s pinnacle is treacherous. In these circumstances, with physical and emotional fatigue at new levels, it might be impossible.

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“Terribly difficult, particularly given that the Lakers only had a few weeks off after their championship run,” Kerr said pregame. “This is a really difficult season for everybody, but particularly for those teams that went deep in the playoffs. And for the Lakers themselves, just trying to defend their championship? I can’t imagine a more difficult season to try and repeat.”

The Lakers certainly looked capable Sunday night, mirroring so many of the key attributes that carried them to a title last season. They were ferocious on defense, so quickly blowing up the Warriors’ offense, it was as if Golden State was on a two-second delay.

James, like he did against Portland, led the way, following up a four-steal, three-block game with two-steals and two blocks in only 24 minutes. Schroder, in his second game back, hounded Stephen Curry and helped hold him to only 16 points — tied for his third-lowest output of the year.

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Offensively, the Lakers regained so much of the rhythm they lost throughout the month. With Schroder pushing the pace, they blew past the Warriors from the first moments of the game, hitting 6 of 9 from three-point range. In the first quarter alone, the Lakers were a ridiculous plus-27 with Schroder on the court.

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