LeBron James is a threat from anywhere on the court.
He's famous for powering through defenses with a stunning mix of sheer strength and grace. But if defenses slack on him, he can also punish them from beyond the three-point line, a point he made very clear in the Lakers' 118-109 win over New Orleans on Tuesday.
James finished with a season-high 40 points in 34 minutes, making five three-pointers as the Lakers improved to 44-12.
"I call him the best deep shooter on our team," Lakers' coach Frank Vogel said. "I think it’s an important shot for him to take and to make from a standpoint of defenses honoring that. You’ve got to make them pay if they’re to play soft defense on you. You’ve got to be able to beat them over the top. He’s been doing this for a long time."
James, 35, scored 16 of those points in the third quarter, helping the Lakers take an 88-86 advantage into the fourth.
"Just reading the defense," James said. "They went under a lot of our pick-and-rolls. Pretty much every team has done that this year. So just trying to make them pay. I was able to get a couple threes to go in and then just being aggressive the rest of the quarter."
There was a highlight reel play in the second quarter, when Alex Caruso made a no-look pass in between his legs to James, who was trailing him on a fast break. James then made a one-handed jam with his right hand.
"Listen, myself and AC, we work well together," James said. "...AC has eyes in the back of his head and for me to be able to finish it, it’s a good play for our ballclub. A momentum play. Our fans loved it and it’s great to be a part of it."
Caruso had quite a game, finishing with the highest plus-minus rating (20) of anyone on the court. His play of the night came when he blocked a shot by Lonzo Ball in the fourth quarter, sending Ball flat on his back and the crowd into a frenzied prolonged standing ovation as they chanted "MVP, MVP."
Forty seconds later, Caruso followed that up with a three-point play after he was fouled on a made running reverse layup. He finished with eight points and eight assists.
Even though James scored nearly twice as much as any Laker on Tuesday, Vogel said Caruso "definitely gets a game ball tonight."
"I’m a big energy guy, as anybody whose seen us play can attest to," Caruso said. "And obviously every time we’re in Staples, they love me, I love playing here. So it’s really easy, just a good give and take. They give great energy, I give great energy. We just kind of bounce off each other."
Tuesday was not smooth sailing for the Lakers, who led by as many as 14 points and trailed by as many as three points. There were 10 lead changes as Zion Williamson shined in his first game against James and Anthony Davis, finishing with 29 points and six rebounds.
James has never met Williamson, but he surely identifies with the 19-year-old who has monster expectations at such a young age.
"I’ve only seen it from a basketball perspective in his first, what, 10-11 games?" James said. "He’s playing exceptional basketball. I think every game he’s going to get better and better, just having that experience."
They were both No. 1 picks out of the draft 16 years apart. James, who entered the NBA straight out of high school in 2003, was asked Tuesday if he would've done anything differently now that he has 17 years of perspective.
"Absolutely not," James said. "I wouldn’t change nothing in my life because I wouldn’t be who I am today on the floor and off the floor. No matter what, the good, the bad and the ugly."