The Los Angeles Lakers extended their win streak to four games Wednesday night, beating the Portland Trailblazers 126-117 in front of a delighted Staples Center crowd.
It was another sensational night from Lakers forward Lebron James, who passed the legendary Wilt Chamberlain to move into fifth (31,425) on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Lebron led the way for the Lakers with 44 points on 13/19 shooting from the field, ten rebounds, and nine assists. He dominated the game, be it with his scoring, defense, or by making plays for other teammates. Behind a superb effort from James and company the Lakers cruised to their sixth win in seven games.
The victory didn’t come without effort though. Los Angeles struggled to start the game, allowing Portland to shoot 57% from the field in the first quarter, and found themselves down by 13 points midway through the second. James and the Lakers rallied with a 27-10 run that put them up 59-55 heading into the half.
It was a rally sparked by the Lakers shooting from behind the arc. Los Angeles hit 60% of their 3-point attempts in the second quarter, including back to back threes by James to end the half. 3-point shooting was the key to Los Angeles’ victory. After hitting a mediocre 37% of 3-point attempts through the first 13 games of the season, the Lakers were able to go 15/32 (47%) from behind the arc Wednesday night. Los Angeles’ ability to hit the 3-ball will be a big factor in their success going forward.
Lakers center JaVale McGee was also a major factor in their win. The 11-year veteran out of Nevada tallied 20 points on 9/12 shooting, two steals, and two blocks. His energy and effort, especially on the defensive end, set the tone for the Lakers early. McGee has to be a serious candidate for most improved player in the NBA this season. He’s averaging 14 points on 63% shooting, and 7 rebounds. It is the first time in seven seasons that McGee has averaged double figures in scoring.
Credit has to be given to the Lakers effort on the defensive end of the floor tonight as well. They held the Trailblazers to just 44% shooting from the field and forced 15 turnovers. Los Angeles kept Portland super-star Damian Lillard in check for much of the night. While he did have 11 assists, his 31 point effort came on just 8/23 shooting (34%).
Los Angeles renewed focus on defense has been instrumental in their turnaround. Through the first six games of the season Los Angeles allowed opponents to hit nearly 50% of their field goals, but through their last eight games opponents have connected just 43% of the time.
It remains to be seen if Los Angeles’ will maintain this commitment to defense. They’ll have their next opportunity to test, Friday night in Orlando.