Lakers let late lead slip away before beating Knicks in overtime

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (6) shoots over New York Knicks' RJ Barrett (9) as Jalen Brunson (11) watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Lakers forward LeBron James tries to score at the rim against Knicks forward RJ Barrett during the first half Tuesday in New York. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

The fans crowded around the baseline, the reporters took out their phones and photographers snapped pictures, LeBron James the focus of all the attention.

He stood on one of basketball’s most famous courts inside Madison Square Garden, the league’s all-time scoring record sprinting from an impossible dream to reality.

It’s why he was the biggest show in town Tuesday — celebrities and sports stars surrounding the court to watch James chip away at a record once thought to be unbreakable.

“It’s not getting heavier,” James said of the moment. “I’m going to do it. I mean, it’s just a matter of time when I’m going to do it.”

James’ pursuit of individual greatness is coming at a time when he’s trying to do something maybe even more daunting — drag the Lakers out of the bottom of the Western Conference into championship contention.

But what if it didn’t have to be just one guy?

“When you get healthy bodies back, you get more options,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.

Russell Westbrook facilitated, Anthony Davis defended and James had his first triple-double of the season, the Lakers surviving to beat the New York Knicks 129-123 in overtime.

James finished with 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds off the bench. Davis, in just his third game back after missing a month with foot injuries, scored 27. Rui Hachimura scored 19 as he moved into the starting lineup with Patrick Beverley out — blocking a key shot down the stretch to help seal the win.

“We played good ball,” James said.

James now has 38,299 career points — just 89 points from breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record.

After the game in the locker room, he did the math in his head. His mother, Gloria, is set to leave Thursday for a week-long trip to the Bahamas. After some subtraction and some division, James called her and told her that the plans might need to change.

“We’re very excited,” Davis said. “Probably going to be a surreal moment.”

Lakers' Rui Hachimura celebrates with LeBron James and Russell Westbrook as New York Knicks' Jalen Brunson walks past them.
Lakers' Rui Hachimura (28) celebrates with LeBron James (6) and Russell Westbrook (0) as New York Knicks' Jalen Brunson walks past them after James scored during the second half on Tuesday in New York. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Tuesday, James also moved into fourth on the league’s all-time assist leaderboard, passing Mark Jackson and Steve Nash.

“Regardless of how much he's been criticized for a while for not taking the last shots and the over-passing — he's just making the right plays,” Ham said. “He's just doing it all. That's what great players do — what all-time greats do.”

With James and Davis back on the floor after sitting out Monday in a loss across town in Brooklyn, the Lakers (24-28) were close to full strength. For the Lakers, fully effective is a different story, the team still trying to figure out itself more than halfway through the season.

But with James playing like this, that can be effective enough — most games.

Shortly after grabbing a rebound to give him his first triple-double of the season, James stepped into an open three and swished it, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau slumping his head and calling a timeout after witnessing James hit another big shot in another big moment.

But after it seemed like he had authored another big moment at the Garden — a swished three-pointer to put the Lakers ahead by six — James and the Lakers completely collapsed. The inconsistencies that have plagued them in so many close games rushed to the surface, the Knicks storming back to tie the score and have a chance to win the game with 4.5 seconds left.

“Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment,” Ham said, “It’s good to get some encouragement.”

On the final possession of regulation, Davis was just enough of a deterrent, keeping Julius Randle from attempting a game-winning shot and forcing the game to go to overtime.

“It gets difficult and disappointing when you’re in these types of games and don’t come out on the right side of it,” Ham said.

But in overtime, Westbrook took over, controlling things with his passing while the Lakers’ defense forced enough turnovers and misses to get the team a win it desperately needed.

“It was beautiful to see,” Ham said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.