It wasn't so long ago that Lakers forward LeBron James was running alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat. From 2010-2014, the trio had its way with any competition that happened to step on the American Airlines Arena's court. When James departed for the Cavaliers in the summer of 2014, he maintained his statistical dominance at the venue over the four-year span, but came up on the losing end each of his four visits. So Los Angeles' 113-97 win over the Heat on Sunday night was a sort of triumph for James in itself. Perhaps most importantly, for his current squad, it was a glimpse into the past through the lens of the present with a focus on the future.
James's 51-point uproar was nothing short of spectacular. He scored on 19-of-31 field goals attempts, including a scorching 6-for-8 from three-point range. The performance marked the 13th 50-point outing of his career, something that, at his age, is significant. At 33 years old, he's the second-oldest Laker to ever score 50 in a single game. (The oldest was Kobe Bryant, who, at 37, dropped 60 in his final career game back in 2016.) Sunday's total marked his second 40-point effort of this season, making him the third player to produce such a score in their 16th season or later (he joined Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, according to ESPN Stats & Info).
When James puts together performances like Sunday's, there's little that can prevent his side from coming away with the winning result. While LeBron was a member of the Heat and paired with Wade, Bosh and the rest of their cast, it was almost assuredly true. With Cleveland, it was mostly true. With Los Angeles, it's still unknown, however, it is encouraging that each of his 40-plus nights has resulted in victories so far (the other came against the Blazers two games ago).
On Sunday night, James wasn't alone. Forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram added 15 and 13 points apiece, respectively. Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 19 off the bench, draining 3 of 5 treys. Center Tyson Chandler's impact was felt on the glass, where he collected a game-high 11 boards. The win was collective, even as Lonzo Ball (two points on 1-for-6 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds) and Lance Stephenson (zero points on 0-for-4 shooting, four rebounds) were ineffective as scorers. The formula to victory wasn't desirable, but compliant.
Sixteen games into the season, rarely have the Lakers been able to coast to a finish. James's greatness lends to opportunities for it to occur. However, they require outings like Sunday's as opposed to what the Lakers put forth during their 130-117 loss against the Magic on Saturday, when James was offered little assistance.
James is accustomed to carrying the load, even when supplied with All-Star reinforcements. With both the Heat and the Cavaliers, James was at the forefront of their success. Although, regardless of how magnificent he was, it took strong play from those alongside him to see things through. Granted, Sunday's win came against a 6-10 Heat squad without two of its top players, it served as a reminder of what James is capable of when playing at his best, and what kind of threat the Lakers could pose when everything is clicking around him.
On Wednesday, James makes his first trip to Cleveland since leaving the Cavs this past offseason. It remains to be seen if James will treat the Quickens Loans Arena crowd to the type of masterful performance he offered his former stomping grounds in Miami on Sunday. But a simple look into the past only reiterates that James's current squad will need him at his best to achieve any of its goals, big or small, this season. And the rest of The King's Court will need to continue to play its part, too.