The red on LeBron James’ shoes matched Santa Claus’ suit, a special pair for a special game that has meant so much to him in his NBA career.
He lounged back on his socially distant chair, one leg crossed over the other, while he watched his Lakers teammates extinguish a Dallas Mavericks comeback without him. He took one shot in the game’s last 7 minutes 19 seconds — a balled-up towel he sent back behind the bench with a flick of the wrist.
The work he had put in during the prior 31 minutes of court time combined with the Lakers’ expanded offensive weaponry afforded him the chance to watch his team close out a 138-115 victory Friday, their first of the young season.
It was, in some ways, a perfect night for the Lakers and James. He got to showcase why he’s such a special player on a big stage — throwing lobs, igniting the Lakers’ offense and fueling their fastbreak in front of a national television audience. And he got to do it without the Lakers asking him to finish the job, helping keep his minutes down as he works his way back into the rhythms of his 18th season.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel credited James and Anthony Davis, who got outplayed by Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the opener, for triggering the big offensive night, with James setting the tone by aggressively attacking Dallas’ defense.
James closed out the season opener sitting on the bench too — that time with the Clippers pulling ahead. Friday, the circumstances were more joyful.
He scored 22 points to go with 10 assists and seven rebounds, the only real hiccup coming from a 15-foot free-throw attempt that went about 14 feet and 6 inches, barely scraping the net.
Davis’ inside-out game was clicking, with the Lakers forward hitting shots at the rim, from the block and, most importantly, from three-point range, where he connected on three of five on his way to a 28-point game.
They had help — lots of it, actually.
“We have the ability to defer,” James said on a postgame videoconference.