LeBron James Put Together A Virtuoso Performance To Lead The Lakers To The In-Season Tournament Final

LAS VEGAS — The Los Angeles Lakers were dominant in a semifinal matchup of the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament on Thursday evening, advancing to the final with a 133-89 shellacking of the New Orleans Pelicans. By halftime, the Lakers led by double-digits behind the latest monster outing from LeBron James in the second quarter and, during the halftime break, TNT’s Kenny Smith spoke about James’ performance under the bright lights of the In-Season Tournament format.

While Smith wasn’t definitively speaking on behalf of James, his words rang true. James was particularly engaged on this night and, while that cannot always be the case at the age of 38, it was apparent to Smith and anyone assembled at T-Mobile Arena that James was dialing it up given the situation.

After a close-fought first quarter, the Lakers broke things open in the second quarter, opening the period with a 15-5 run. James was the catalyst during that stretch, knocking down three-pointers on three consecutive possessions, with the final triple coming from the logo.

It wasn’t only the outside shooting from James, who asserted himself off the dribble. He kept pressure on the rim, finishing through the contact and also spraying passes to open shooters and cutters.

For good measure, James also drew two charges and used his physicality to deter the Pelicans near the rim on several occasions. In the second quarter alone, the Lakers were +21 with James on the floor in 9:19 of clock time. Wildly, Los Angeles was -7 in the other 2:41 in the period, making James’ impact even more clear, and he finished with 18 points in the quarter.

That stretch was impressive enough on its own, but James again came out of the locker room flying in the third quarter. He racked up nine points, four assists, and three rebounds in the first six minutes, again reaching the heights from the second quarter explosion and helping to build the Lakers’ lead to 30 points by the middle of the third period.

Even with 18 minutes of action to play, the result was virtually academic after a 23-6 run by the Lakers to open the second half. New Orleans never again seriously challenged, and Los Angeles cruised to the comfortable finishing margin. James was even able to kick back, at least relatively, to avoid maxing out his effort level for the remainder of the night. All told, he finished with 30 points on 9-for-12 shooting, 4-for-4 from three-point range, and 8-for-8 at the free throw line in only 23 minutes. James also added eight assists and five rebounds, rounding out a rather legendary performance.

At this stage, it can perhaps feel too obvious to note the brilliance of LeBron James. After all, he is a 19-time All-NBA selection, four-time MVP, and four-time NBA champion who most believe is firmly on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore of all-time greats. Still, Thursday’s performance was a keen reminder that what James is doing just three weeks shy of his 39th birthday is utterly ludicrous. James was the best player, by a wide margin, on the floor in a “Final Four” setting, and when he’s playing at this level, the Lakers are a threat to beat any team on any night.

James and the Lakers will continue their In-Season Tournament run on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers with the inaugural title on the line in the desert. With James playing this way and Tyrese Haliburton leading an electric unit on the other side, fireworks project to follow, and it seems like a safe bet to assume James will be primed and ready with a championship on the line.