LOS ANGELES — LeBron James gave Houston Rockets forward Dillon Brooks the slightest of shoulder nudges midway through the fourth quarter with the Lakers up 90-85, creating a smidge of air space before running a pick-and-roll with Anthony Davis.
Even with Brooks going under Davis’ screen, that separation was all James needed to turn the corner quickly and burst into the lane for an emphatic dunk that got the announced sell-out crowd of 18,997 inside Crypto.com Arena on their feet.
“He was outstanding,” coach Darvin Ham said of James. “The LeBron we’ve all come to know and love over these 21 years.”
The play was a microcosm of the Lakers’ 105-104 home win over the Rockets.
On a night when most of their teammates struggled shooting, James (season-high 37 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals in 40 minutes) and Davis (27 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals) did the heavy lifting offensively for most of Sunday.
And when they needed a game-deciding point, James came through by drawing a shooting foul and making one of two free throws with less than two seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Lakers (8-6). It was James’ fifth 30-point game of the season, third in his last five games played and second in a row.
Brooks (team-high 24 points) missed a 3-point heave before the final buzzer.
“He’s playing phenomenal right now,” Davis said of James. “His shot is falling. He’s attacking the paint, making the right reads [and] doing it on the defensive end. He’s doing it all for us and it’s our job to try to complement him and help him out with our shot-making or playmaking. But it doesn’t even feel like he’s 38. So, we keep getting that performance from him and then we get out three-ball from the rest of the team, I think we’ll be fine.”
Austin Reaves (17 points, six assists, six rebounds) and Rui Hachimura (11 points, four rebounds) made plays throughout the game to support James and Davis.
Reaves knocked down a 31-foot 3-pointer assisted by James to give the Lakers a 103-100 lead with 24 seconds left after Brooks left Reaves open above the break to double-team James on the wing.
“I just believe in myself,” Reaves said. “Bron made a good pass and thought I was open. They kept telling me it was really deep. I don’t think I understood how far I was. Just tried to get a good look and make a shot.”
Reaves’ 3 came after Davis fouled out with 58 seconds remaining, with the score tied at 100. The Lakers didn’t have a challenge to use on Davis’ foul, with Ham unsuccessfully challenging a foul called against Davis in the second quarter.
Davis scored 13 of his total points in the third quarter.
After Alperen Şengün (23 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) made a hook shot to reduce the Lakers’ lead to 103-102 with 17 seconds left, Reaves made one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 104-102 lead with 12 seconds remaining.
Eight seconds later, Şengün scored over James in the post to tie the game at 104 before James drew a shooting foul that sealed the victory.
“That’s a hell of a ball club on that side,” Ham said. “[Rockets coach] Ime [Udoka] and his staff, they’re doing a great job reestablishing a winning culture with the Houston Rockets. They’re new additions, you can see the effect that they’re having on the game but more so on those younger guys. Nothing but respect for the job they’re doing.”
The Lakers will return to Crypto.com Arena on Tuesday for their final in-season tournament group-stage matchup against the Utah Jazz. If the Lakers beat the Jazz, they’ll win West Group A and will advance to the tournament’s knockout rounds.
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