Dribbles: LeBron, Lakers put on show in entertaining restart win

Sam Amico

Random dribbles following the Lakers' 103-101 thriller of a restart victory over the Clippers in Orlando on Thursday.

1. Of course it had the feel of a playoff game. Of course it came down to a last shot. Of course LeBron James hit the game-winner. It's almost as if basketball never left.

2. James admittedly was a bit rusty. He did score 16 points and grab 11 rebounds for his 43rd double-double of the season. But he went just 6-of-19 shooting and committed a team-high five turnovers.

3. Still, there was James again playing his best when it meant the most. His follow of his own miss with 12.9 seconds remaining sealed the deal.

4. "I struggled a lot in the first half; I actually struggled a lot in the first three quarters," LeBron told Jared Greenberg of TNT. 

5. But it was the fourth where James shined, where he made the biggest basket and some of the most critical defensive stops. In fact, it was James who forced Paul George into an awkward 3-point heave at the final buzzer.

6. While LeBron displayed his usual championship grit, Anthony Davis was actually MVP for the Lakers. Davis enabled the Lakers to get off to a quick start, scoring 20 of his game-high 34 points in the first half. 

7. Then the Lakers had one of those LeBron-led team third quarters, the kind of third quarters that once drove fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers crazy. Just like those Cavs, these Lakers built an 11-point lead in the first half ... then led by just 52-50 at halftime ... then were outscored by a 14-1 count to start the third.

8. George (30 points) and fellow Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (28) had a lot to do with that. But so did James and the rest of the Lakers, who looked passive and flat.

9. But James, Davis and some underrated contributions from the likes of reserves Kyle Kuzma (16 points) and Dion Waiters (11) helped chip away at the deficit, little by little.

10. Yes, that Dion Waiters. I've written it before and it's worth repeating -- Waiters and these Lakers are looking like a perfect basketball match. And good for Waiters. If he can remain focused, he'll make real difference for this team.

11. J.R. Smith played eight minutes, took one shot and didn't score. Not surprisingly, he looked out of sorts. That's understandable. This was his first official NBA game since Nov. 19, 2018.

12. The Lakers (50-14) now hold a lead of 6.5 games over the Clippers (44-21) for first place in the Western Conference. There are seven to go.

13. Translation: The race is over.

14. But guess what? It really doesn't matter, because there is no homecourt advantage in the bubble. None. Zero. Zilch. And the two LA teams are extremely evenly matched. I give the Lakers a slight edge, but it is oh-so-slight. Like, a whisker.

15. And we can't forget that the Clippers didn't have Lou Williams or Montrezl Harrell on this night. Both were out to quarantine. Both are huge pieces that could make a difference in this series moving forward. 

16. Overall, the night did have a strange feel. I agree with TNT analyst Kenny Smith that little about the game seemed different when watching on TV. But those virtual fans in the stands and the fake crowd noise weird me out, man.

17. Mostly, it's nice to have some actual basketball back. This country, our world, has been through a lot since March. Sports are a welcome diversion. 

18. When it comes to the NBA, these two teams may be the two very best. The season series is tied at 2-all, and I suspect both teams are going to give us plenty of reasons to watch moving forward. It sure was an entertaining start.