Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard quickly followed it up on the other end by blowing by Rajon Rondo for a one-handed dunk.
And not to be outdone, James received the inbounds pass and raced up the court, used a JaVale McGee screen near the top of the key and once again attacked the rim with a vicious tomahawk slam.
“He smashed it,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports.
Portland called a timeout. James began pounding his chest, and he met teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at half-court for a shoulder bump.
The King was amped up as he shouted, “Let’s go!” while staring intensely at the restless fans on his way to the bench.
But for the remainder of the evening, all James stared at were countless 3-point bricks in a 128-119 loss at the Moda Center on Thursday in the Lakers’ season opener.
“There’s going to be good times, there’s going to be bad times,” James said after scoring 26 points, pulling down 12 rebounds and distributing six assists. “That’s what happens when a team is new.”
Portland has now defeated the Lakers 16 straight times.
“I mean, 15 of those are in the past. The one we wanted was tonight,” said Lillard, who registered a game-high 28 points. “We just wanted to get the season started on the right foot.”
Open corner threes were unsuccessful, dribble pullups found the back of the iron and shots off screens couldn’t find the bottom of the net for Los Angeles
The Lakers missed 23-of-30 threes, spoiling James’ Lakers debut with cold shooting and a noticeable lack of rhythm.
“They didn’t go in the hoop,” James said. “They were all great shots. They just didn’t go in.”
The Lakers missed their first 15 triples and didn’t connect on one until Josh Hart converted with two minutes left in the third quarter. He was the lone Laker on target from deep, nailing three 3-pointers and producing 20 points off the bench.
Throughout his career, James has feasted off setting up knock-down shooters for easy looks at the basket. Outside of Hart, this team, as currently constructed, is void of such dependable long-distance snipers.
“They were good shots,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We’re going to keep taking those. Brandon [Ingram] getting open corner threes, [Kyle Kuzma] had a couple of good looks, ’Bron had a couple of them. Those are the shots we want. … Those are shots we’ll hit as the season goes on, so I’m fine with that.”
The Lakers were also outrebounded 54-46, and despite playing at a faster pace than the Trail Blazers, the home team had seven more field-goal attempts. Young Blazers journeyman Nik Stauskas splashed in five treys and tied a career high with 24 points.
Although James showed some visible signs of frustration throughout the contest, his body language never displayed a negative disposition. Patience is not James’ strong suit, but he realizes he can’t do anything else but wait.
“That’s all I’ve been preaching since the season started, since we got back to work, that it’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us,” James said. “Just figuring out one another, figuring out what we’re good at, figuring out what we’re not so good at and how we can be better at it. It was a good first test for us to be in a building where they haven’t lost [against the Lakers] in the 2000s.”
With the youth and athleticism the Lakers possess, it appears some games will be won in a track meet.
“We are just faster than a lot of teams,” Hart said. “So, when we get out, not that many teams can stay with us.”
But their Achilles’ heel might be a lack of outside shooting.
And if this becomes a trend, it’s going to be a long season for James and company.
“You control what you control,” James said. “And what I control is how I lead these guys and how I prepare every day. I come in with a championship mindset and preaching and practicing excellence every day. I believe that will [rub] off [on guys].”
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