The last two games for the Lakers were crushing.
They were left in a state of despair both times. They were close games the Lakers were unable to win. The Lakers still could feel the sting of both defeats.
But the beauty of the NBA is there is another day and another game, and that’s what the Lakers had to look forward to Monday night when they faced the Houston Rockets at Crypto.com Arena.
This time, LeBron James refused to let the Lakers lose a game that was still too-close-for-comfort against the young, energetic and talented Rockets in which both teams were playing back-to-back games.
It took James producing a season-high 48 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for the Lakers to pull out a 140-132 victory over the Rockets as L.A. ended a three-game losing streak.
James has scored 40 points or more for the third time this season, the 72nd time of his illustrious 20-year career during the regular season and 100th of his career including playoffs.
He scored 20 points in the fourth, including four free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the game.
The Rockets kept coming back behind the play of Alperen Sengun, who had a career-high 33 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
James scored 28 points by the time he took his first break in the third quarter with three minutes and 50 seconds left and the Lakers holding a 95-81 lead that was sliced to 102-98 at the end of the quarter, with James on the bench watching.
James was 11 for 17 from the field and four for five from three-point range.
The Lakers dropped a double-overtime game to the Dallas Mavericks last Thursday night, a game in which L.A. thought a few last-second calls should have gone its way. The Lakers followed that up with a last-second, one-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night, another game in which L.A. didn’t like the calls.
Despite all that, Lakers coach Darvin Ham didn’t want his team feeling sorry for itself.
He didn’t want the Lakers to look back but rather ahead for the next challenge.
“Just with that hammer, man, keep chipping away at the rock. As I mentioned, it can be disappointing, but you gotta get past that. You gotta shake it off,” Ham said pregame.
“You got another game you gotta tee up tonight. That’s the great thing about this league, you don’t get long to feel sorry for yourself. And you also get a chance to hit the restart button and try to get it right. Just a ton of great things that took place against some really top-shelf talent the last couple of games. But, again, just making plays, playing the right way, keeping that competitive edge, staying together. I think we’re in a good place in terms of all that. We just gotta figure out how to finish games in this league.”
The Lakers got some feel-good moments to help them forget about the two tough losses.
Kendrick Nunn provided the first, throwing down a one-handed dunk over Jalen Green in the first quarter that brought the crowd to its feet.
Then there were the back-to-back exciting plays.
James grabbed the defensive rebound and went coast to coast, powering in for a layup while being fouled by Alperen Sengun. James stopped to pose for a few seconds, bellowing to the cheering crowd, “I’m a bad … boy!”
On the very next play, James grabbed the defensive rebound and went coast to coast for a dunk, his head bobbing afterwards and more unprintable words coming out of his mouth.
His play helped the Lakers open a 73-61 lead over the Rockets at the half.
By the intermission, James had 18 points, five rebounds and three assists. He was seven for 11 from the field and had made both of his three-pointers.
As a team, the Lakers shot 44.4% from three-point range, going eight for 18, in the first half.
Patrick Beverley, who missed the last two games with a non-COVID illness, was three for five from three-point range in the first 24 minutes. He had 11 points in the first half, as did Russell Westbrook and Wenyen Gabriel.
The Lakers were also playing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day for them and the rest of the NBA to acknowledge the civil rights icon.
“Any day we can recognize a man that’s that humble, that was that great and stood for what he stood for and tried to affect change for the positive it’s a wonderful day,” Ham said. “I’m thankful for him and his message and everything he tried to do within the civil rights movement.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.