LeBron James enters ‘sicko mode’ to lead Lakers’ 21-point comeback against Clippers


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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James walked across the Crypto.com Arena floor shaking his head and spinning his index fingers around his ears.

The celebration, a James favorite when he’s heating up, came amid an improbable 21-point fourth-quarter comeback for the Lakers, who defeated the LA Clippers 116-112 at Crypto.com Arena Wednesday. James scored 19 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, including five of his season-high seven made 3-pointers. James (19 points) outscored the Clippers (16 points) single-handedly in the frame.

Anthony Davis dubbed James’ offensive outburst as him going “sicko mode.” Head coach Darvin Ham called it James whipping out his “superhero cape.” James simply referred to it as being in “the zone.”

“It’s just a feeling when you feel like everything you put up is going in,” James said. “I just kept it consistent. I wasn’t taking ill-advised shots. I stayed in the course of the offense. When I was able to get the switches, I was able to give myself some space to get a couple more looks, so my teammates did a great job of continuing to find me. And then I just started to dictate the tempo, dictate the game. … It’s just a zone. Can’t really describe it. Wish you could stay in it forever. … It’s just like a superpower feel.”

The Lakers desperately needed James’ superpowers after the disastrous way the first three quarters — particularly the third quarter — unfolded. The Clippers, despite missing Paul George and Ivica Zubac, led by 21 points, 98-77, at the 11:45 mark of the quarter. The game was shaping up to be another lopsided Clippers win over the Lakers, with the Lakers dropping to just 1-3 since the All-Star Break and into a deeper hole at 10th in the West.

But James, though a combination of sheer will, focus and energy, led a 29-8 run to tie the game at the four-minute mark, and the Lakers took the lead for good on a Rui Hachimura 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the game.

Following the win, the Lakers are 32-28 and reclaimed the No. 9 seed in the West. They won the season series with the Clippers, 3-1, for the first time since 2011-12. The game marked the final time the Lakers and Clippers will face off as co-tenants at Crypto.com Arena after sharing the building for 25 years.

James either scored or assisted on 11 of the Lakers’ 13 field goals in the fourth quarter, controlling the game through a combination of pick-and-rolls and isolations.

He routinely targeted James Harden and Daniel Theis, who started and assumed a larger role with Zubac out. He asked for a screen to drag one of the two into the fray, and then patiently waited for another screen if the Clippers tried to keep either out of the action. He ensured the Lakers extracted value out of each possession.

“It’s like an action we call point rub,” Ham said of the Lakers’ go-to offensive set against the Clippers. “It’s basically targeting the weakest defender, or targeting where we can get it, we feel like we can get his advantage. And he just caught fire. And I told him in between quarters that we got to get up 3s. We got to score the ball. If you open for 3, be aggressive from the 3-point line. He did just that. He set the tone in that regard as well. But thank God he’s on our team.” 

The Clippers countered by trapping James with double-teams and shading extra off-ball attention toward him, leading to James giving up the ball and relying on his teammates to finish the comeback. He was the deciding factor, but the rest of the starting group stepped up over the final few minutes.

Hachimura had the go-ahead corner 3-pointer, which came moments after missing a similar look. He followed that basket with a reverse layup a possession later. About a minute after that, Russell drilled a catch-high, shoot-high stationary 3 from the same corner — a dagger shot — to put the Lakers up 114-108 with 1:12 to play.

Davis had 20 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and three blocks; he grabbed two offensive rebounds and made the game-tying free throws in the fourth. Russell posted 18 points and six assists. Hachimura added 17 points. Austin Reaves had 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and played good defense against Norman Powell in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers improved to 7-1 with their newest starting lineup, closing with the group as it found the proper two-way balance with increased defensive efforts from James and Reaves.

“It was reminiscent of what they did in the postseason last year,” Ham said. “That Memphis series, Golden State series. Those guys are very capable and willing shooters in big moments. And you saw it on display tonight in that stretch down the stretch during the fourth quarter. (The Clippers) began to put two bodies in front of Bron. and again, he played the right play and they finished the play.”

On the game’s final possession, James shadowed Leonard and forced him into a contested 12-foot fadeaway jumper that came up short. James corralled the rebound and hit Cam Reddish — returning after a 14-game absence because of an ankle sprain — in transition for a punctuation dunk in front of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

In back-to-back games, the Lakers have asked James to be their primary wing stopper against two of the league’s best scorers in Kevin Durant and Leonard. James embraced the challenge in both instances, helping the Lakers make a second-half run against the Suns and actually sealing the deal against the Clippers. James’ athleticism, strength and basketball IQ allowed him to check Leonard in impressive fashion, as he has done in previous seasons.

“Until I can’t do it anymore,” James said of defending an opponent’s best player. “I’ve been put in position throughout my whole career where I’ve had to do a little bit of everything throughout the course of the game. … So, offensively, our team needed me to step up, and defensively they needed me to take the challenge on Kawhi. I mean, back-to-back with KD and Kawhi, that’s a gauntlet for sure, for any defender. So just try to take the challenge and hope that they miss. And just try to make it tough on them.”

Ham said the Lakers don’t want to rely on James as their primary wing defender nightly, but understands they may have to given their recent defensive woes.

“I mean, that’s something we try to save in our back pocket,” Ham said. “If we need to get to it, we’ll get to it like we did tonight. … So it’s great when you can call on your best player and he’s in great shape at this stage of his career. It’s unbelievable for him to be able to do it on both sides of the ball still.”

Will James, who has missed the Lakers’ previous back-to-back because of his ongoing left ankle injury, play against the Washington Wizards on Thursday?

“We’ll see,” Ham said.

Considering James’ workload on Wednesday and the opponent’s 9-49 record, it wouldn’t be surprising if he sat out. But with the Lakers in desperate need of wins to move up in the West standings, it wouldn’t be surprising if he suited up, either. He’s playing with a remarkable sense of urgency coming out of the All-Star Break.

Wednesday’s victory is the type of momentum-shifting win that could catapult the Lakers into a strong close to the regular season. They were finally putting things together before the break, and have a golden opportunity to get closer to regaining their rhythm against the Wizards.

“Another good test for us tomorrow,” James said. “We got to see how we handle success tonight by coming in tomorrow and being mentally prepared as well.”

 (Photo of LeBron James: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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