LOS ANGELES — LeBron James’s home debut was one of the most anticipated Lakers games in recent memory, but it wound up being overshadowed by a fourth-quarter fracas that featured three ejections and multiple punches.
The Rockets defeated the Lakers 124-115 at the Staples Center on Saturday, dropping L.A. to 0-2 on the season with a Monday night date with the Spurs.
Here are three quick thoughts from a wild Saturday night at the Staples Center.
Coming to blows
Rockets guard Chris Paul and Lakers guard Rajon Rondo got into a heated altercation and had to be separated at the 4:13 mark of the fourth quarter. The fight began when Brandon Ingram shoved James Harden, who was arguing for an and-one call after being fouled by Ingram in transition. As players from both teams surrounded Ingram, who vented directly in a referee’s face, Paul stuck his finger into Rondo’s face. Rondo retaliated by throwing a punch, and both players swung at each other before teammates intervened. Ingram also threw a punch in the aftermath of the original incident.
The referees assessed a personal foul and two technical fouls on Ingram, leading to his ejection. Both Paul and Rondo were also ejected. As the referees sorted through the mess, the Staples Center crowd rained down chants of “Houston Sucks” and “Ron-Do! Ron-Do!” Ingram received the longest suspension with four games, while Rondo was given a three-game suspension and Paul received two games.
Houston closed with a 15-7 push following the incident to claim its first win of the season.
The MVP overshadows The King
James Harden, L.A. native, had no plans to play second fiddle to LeBron, L.A. transplant, on Saturday. The reigning MVP led all scorers with 36 points, adding seven rebounds and five assists in the win. James, meanwhile, tallied 24 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Following the altercation, Harden took command down the stretch. He hit three free throws, found P.J. Tucker wide open in the corner for a dagger three and then put the game out of reach with a three of his own and a driving lay-up.
An ostentatious welcome to L.A.
There’s been nothing subtle about the start of the LeBron Lakers era. Indeed, the massive Nike mural in downtown Cleveland seems understated compared to James’s presence in the downtown L.A. Live district.
Nike has blanketed multiple buildings, including the glistening Ritz Carlton Tower, with James murals. In one, he appears in a yellow Lakers jersey. In another, he’s dunking alongside the words: “He dreamed of becoming a legend. So he started doing legendary things. Then he decided to take his dreams west. Just a small-town kid with big-city dreams.” On yet another, he appeared in front of the Lakers’ championship banners alongside the words: “It’s only a crazy dream until you do it.”
Beats headphones also got in on the salesmanship act, featuring James in a yellow Lakers jersey and headphones under the tagline: “The game will never sound the same.”
James’s omnipresence extended to the Staples Center’s in-game experience. Ice Cube narrated a pregame video about James’s arrival in L.A., featuring references to the Lakers’ “new era” and “Showtime” past. To no one’s surprise, James was introduced last following a pregame hype video, as Jack Nicholson and other celebrities looked on. James even dominated the breaks in action, as his ads for Nike and Beats ran in full on the jumbotron during the first half.