LOS ANGELES — Kawhi Leonard was a force, hitting his first five shots, scoring 18 in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 38. Paul George was cooking late, scoring 20 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter. The Anthony Davis the Lakers need showed up on Wednesday with 27 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
In the face of all of that, it was LeBron James who decided the game.
He willed the Lakers past the Clippers in overtime Wednesday after 11 straight defeats to their roommates. LeBron shot 6-of-8 in the second half, scoring 14 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and made plays that electrified the crowd and echoed the Showtime Lakers.
SHOWTIME FOR THE KING
LEBRON HAS 35 PTS
: Lakers-Clippers | OT live on ESPN pic.twitter.com/f9wbyxEaUb
— NBA (@NBA) November 2, 2023
"I mean, he took over," D'Angelo Russell said of LeBron.
For all the talk of Anthony Davis stepping up and the roster's improved depth, the Lakers still go as LeBron James goes. He has to be great — and play more than 30 minutes a night — for them to be a threat.
The numbers back up the eye test on this. The Lakers are +35 when LeBron is on the court this season and -39 when he is not. Or, look at it this way: the Lakers outscore opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the court and get outscored by 22.9 when he sits.
Against the Clippers, the Lakers had maybe their best night with LeBron on the bench, a 14-2 run in the third that made it a game came with LeBron sitting near Darvin Ham (in the first half LeBron was -3 in 19 minutes, the Lakers were -10 in the other five).
Still, when it came to winning time it was LeBron who was at the center of everything.
"If the game is close, I can make plays to help us win the ballgame, no matter who is out on the floor for us," LeBron said postgame.
Talking about LeBron's age and the miles on his body almost feels cliche at this point.
LeBron James is the first player in NBA history to score 35+ PTS in a game in their 21st season. pic.twitter.com/F6GcEoMxKJ
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) November 2, 2023
However, LeBron's age and his remaining the heart of this team has to inform the Lakers' actions this season — find a way to keep him healthy and go all in for a ring — as well as whatever comes next. Can this franchise really just be handed over to Anthony Davis?
With LeBron contemplating retirement after last season and him turning 39 in December, the Lakers aren't in a place to think long-term. They need to win now. For Ham, that meant abandoning the well-intentioned offseason plan to keep LeBron around 30 minutes a night — in the last four games he is averaging 37.5 a game, including 42 minutes against the Clippers. It's what Ham has to do for the Lakers to win.
Davis and the Lakers' depth matters, both during the first 82 and in the quest for 16 more wins after that. Just don't lose focus on the main thing:
The Lakers are LeBron's team and going as far as he can carry them.