NEW ORLEANS (AP) — LeBron James keeps finding ways to assert his supremacy over the upstart New Orleans Pelicans and rookie sensation Zion Williamson — with or without the help of fellow Lakers All-Star Anthony Davis.
James had 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and Los Angeles overcame both Davis’ absence and Williamson’s highest-scoring game to beat New Orleans 122-114 on Sunday night.
“Obviously, spectacular performance by LeBron James,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “His shot-making was ridiculous from both in the post, with turnaround jump shots, and at the 3-point line.
“When they brought double-teams, he is one of the best passers in the league,” Vogel added. “He showed it tonight and picked their defense apart.”
Williamson finished with 35 points, but his largely productive and highlight-filled night was marred somewhat by six turnovers.
Kyle Kuzma scored 20, including a corner 3-pointer set up by James that put the Lakers up 113-109 with 3:40 to go. The Lakers gradually pulled away after that, aided by James’ 3 with 2:27 left.
“He is who he is — incredible player,” Williamson said of James. “I give respect when it’s due. He hit a big shot and it helped them seal the game.”
Davis, who spent the first seven of his eight seasons with New Orleans, sat out with a sore right knee, one night after playing in the Lakers’ 105-88 loss at Memphis. His injury did not appear too serious; he was on the bench in street clothes and routinely reacted to the action on the court by springing out of his seat and standing on the sideline.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 13 and JaVale McGee asserted himself inside with six blocked shots and eight points, including his layup in the final minute that made it 120-112.
“We had one of the best players in the league out tonight; that is what makes the win feel that much better,” Vogel said. “Kuz was great and our bigs were great. A lot of guys contributed on the perimeter, in particular on the defensive end. … Just a heck of a win for us.”
James punished the Pelicans on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter when double-teams arrived late, beating guard and former teammate Josh Hart with explosive dribble drives for a dunk and a layup. His dominance served as an emphatic encore to his season-high 40 points in a victory over New Orleans six days earlier in Los Angeles.
“He just controls the whole game,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You go down and double him, and he finds the open pass for 3. If you don’t double him, he’s so strong and so skilled that he just lays the ball in the basket. … I’m just amazed that they talk about anybody other than him for MVP.”
Ex-Laker Lonzo Ball had 19 points, nine assists and nine rebounds for New Orleans. Derrick Favors added 12 points and 14 rebounds, but the Pelicans were done in by 7-of-33 3-point shooting.
The opening half was a crowd-pleasing affair in which James scored 19 and Williamson 17.
Moments after Williamson had cut to the hoop for a one-handed stuff, James pulled up from 35 feet for a 3 that tied it at 61.
“Zion had a hell of a move right before that, got the crowd into it. I looked at the clock and saw we had an opportunity for a two-for-one,” James recalled. “Nine times out of 10, maybe 10 times out of 10, a lot of guys are not going to contest that shot because they think I’m shooting that from too far. So I know I have some space. I work on it before the game and I was able to knock it down.”
Caldwell-Pope’s driving finger roll gave Los Angeles a 63-61 edge at halftime.
The Lakers widened their lead to nine in the third quarter, only to see New Orleans surge back in front, sparked by Williamson spinning free from Kuzma for a back-door dunk of Jrue Holiday’s alley-oop pass.
Early in the fourth, the Pelicans led by as many as six points — not nearly enough to prevent James and Co. from taking over late.
Lakers: Danny Green, Avery Bradley and Markieff Morris each scored 10 points. … Swept the season series 4-0. … Also played without guard Alex Caruso (right hamstring).
Pelicans: Brandon Ingram scored 15 points, Holiday added 11 and Nicolo Melli 10. … Announced reserve guard JJ Redick would miss at least two weeks with a left hamstring strain — an injury that occurred during a victory over Cleveland on Friday night. … Recalled rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
PASSING THE TORCH
James approached Williamson and spoke with him briefly on the court after the final horn.
“It’s just my responsibility. No one told me to do that,” James said. “You see all these guys — these young guys. You know, the league is in a very good place and if I’m able to give my wisdom of the game, pass it down while I’m playing or after I’m playing, I feel like it’s my job because the game has just given me so much since I started playing when I was 8 years old.”
Williamson said James’ decision to approach him “definitely means something because he’s been doing this for 17 years, and his resume speaks for itself.”