So, it was left up to LeBron James to carry the burden for the Lakers against the San Antonio Spurs in just his second game after missing five with a left adductor strain.
And James did more than just score (a season-high 39 points), rebound (11) and make all his free throws (10 for 10) during the Lakers’ 143-138 win over the Spurs, his biggest assist perhaps being holding Russell Westbrook before things got out of control at AT&T Center.
James kept Westbrook from getting into trouble after the Lakers guard was fouled hard by Spurs center Zach Collins, who knocked Westbrook to the court and bloodied his forehead. Westbrook scrambled to get up, but James wrapped him up before he got to Collins.
Westbrook was called for a technical foul and Collins a flagrant foul and ejected from the game. Westbrook, who had his head taped, shot his free throws and then went to the locker room late in the third quarter. The Lakers said Westbrook’s laceration required no sutures and he came back with 8 minutes 33 seconds left in the fourth and the Lakers leading 121-105, and he didn’t have any tape on his head.
“Initially reaction, obviously is to hop up and kind of see what’s going on,” Westbrook said. “But once I’m bleeding all over the place I was able to calm down and take care of that and I moved forward.
“Yeah, it was fine. Doctor looked at it and closed it up and I came back out.”
While Westbrook was bleeding, James took a towel and covered his teammate’s head to help curb the bleeding. James wanted to make sure his teammate was in a good space.
“I didn’t want to let Russ escalate it any further,” James said. “Especially with him bleeding like that, I didn’t want to hit Russ or anything after that contact. So, just try to step in there and try to defuse it as much as possible.”
There was a sequence in the second quarter in which James and Westbook hooked up on a play rarely seen in the NBA. James thew a lob to Westbrook, who was ahead on the play. Westbrook then threw a lob back to the streaking James for a one-handed dunk that had the crowd on its feet.
“Russ being an elite passer on this team, an elite passer in this game for quite a while, I figured I’d keep trailing and see if he’ll throw it back up, and he did, and I was able to reward that,” said James, who was 11 for 21 from the field and seven for 12 from three-point range.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said Davis “was kicked at some point in the second half” of Friday night’s win over the Spurs.
“It’s a little irritated,” Ham said of Davis’ calf. “[There is] a little bruising. So, just trying to stay ahead of it.”
Davis in his previous five games averaged 33.4 points and 17.6 rebounds and shot 64.4%.
But with it being the second game in two nights, Ham said the Lakers wanted to be cautious with Davis, who missed one other game this season because of back tightness.
“It’s just the smart and right thing to do,” Ham said. “We don’t want to push him this early in the season. And when you’re talking about different muscles and ligaments, it’s something that can easily turn into a yearlong issue.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.