“The player that wears No. 23, 6-foot-8 in his 16th campaign from St. Vincent-St. Mary [High School], LeBron James,” rattled out of the speakers at Staples Center as James was introduced in the starting lineup in the Los Angeles Lakers preseason clash against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday evening.
“You just hear the crowd and it’s like all right, it’s going to be a little different,” Lakers guard Josh Hart said. “Even [James] said it, I think at halftime, he said it’s loud, it was lit too and we heard it.”
In just the second preseason game of the youthful NBA season, James received a warm welcome by the sellout crowd of 18,997 people as he tore down the lane for an explosive rim-wrecking dunk. It was the first of its kind for James in a Lakers uniform. The crowd leapt out of their seats as the rafters of Staples Center, decorated with championship banners, were filled with cheers.
“The turnout was great, the atmosphere was amazing,” James described. “Definitely appreciated by all of us in here that they came to a preseason game like this. We just tried to give them a good show which we did all the way down to the last possession.”
In the first quarter, Lakers leading scorer through two games JaVale McGee, sparked the team’s offense with his completion of a three-point play. It was followed by a 9-0 run by the Lakers. First, James laid the ball in then James dished it to Hart for a score, then Ingram was fed by Rajon Rondo in the lane. The Nuggets took a timeout.
After racking up six points with two assists in nine minutes, James headed to the bench. He played 15 minutes during Los Angeles’ preseason opener against Denver in San Diego on Sunday. James’ minutes through the first two games were pretty consistent. He added 13 points and 3 rebounds in 14:39 of play.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton continues to experiment with lineups, minutes and plays. On Tuesday, he elected to start Hart, the second year guard out of Villanova, over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
As the second unit filtered in, in the second quarter Los Angeles showed more intensity and effort on the defensive end. The Lakers starters returned to the floor with nearly four minutes left to play in the first half. McGee, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, threw down a monstrous dunk. The Lakers maintained the lead at halftime, 59-38.
To start the third quarter, Los Angeles came out to a 7-0 run without James on the floor. Rondo dished a pass to McGee for another dunk, which was followed by Kuzma pulling up from three.
“We’re trying to just run,” McGee commented. “We have a lot of young guys, a lot of fast guys, so we’re trying to just do this.”
The Lakers 18-point lead early in the third quarter was trimmed down to four, 74-70, with 3:06 left in the quarter.
“We’re really harping on being selfless out there, sometimes too selfless,” McGee added.
The Lakers’ non-starters struggled immensely to start the final quarter. The Nuggets put together an 8-0 run to start the quarter and took a 86-84 lead over Los Angeles.
Walton elected to put Hart back in the game to help stop the bleeding. Hart immediately nailed a three-pointer to cut the Lakers deficit to two points (95-93).
It’s the “same thing we’re always looking for,” Walton said of his expectations for Hart starting before the game. A “Hard nose defender, knock down shots…same thing he brought to the table in that first game.”
Hart finished with 14 points and four assists. It came down to the final possession for the Lakers. The team trailed by two with time left on the clock, but rookie Isaac Bonga passed up an open shot not realizing how much time was left.
The Lakers now fall to 0-2 in preseason play with both losses coming at the hands of the Nuggets. Lakers will return to Staples Center on Thursday, Oct. 4 as the team’s preseason continues with a matchup against the visiting Sacramento Kings.