Rested Lakers, James take on Hornets
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LeBron James gets the bonus of a scheduling advantage as he seeks to win for the 18th time in his career in Charlotte when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Hornets on Saturday night.
Having gotten steamrolled by James Harden’s 50-point triple-double in a 126-111 loss at Houston on Thursday, the Lakers enjoyed the advantage of relaxing in Charlotte on Friday night while the Hornets were working overtime with the New York Knicks on the front end of a back-to-back.
Charlotte wound up with nothing to show for its 53 minutes of fast-paced ball, losing 126-124 to the Knicks on the Hornets’ home floor.
James already has endured six back-to-backs this season and hasn’t missed any of the Lakers’ 28 contests. The 33-year-old is tied for 10th in the NBA in average minutes played at 35.0.
James has worked an average of 38.1 minutes in his last 15 games against the Hornets, including at least 36 minutes in each of his last four visits to Charlotte, all of which his team (the Cleveland Cavaliers at the time) won.
He’s gone 17-5 in North Carolina for the Cavaliers and Miami Heat over the past 14 seasons, scoring 30 or more points 10 times and 35 or more four times, with a high of 41 in a 118-105 win last March.
Due to his move to the Western Conference this season, Saturday’s meeting will be James’ only outing of the season at Charlotte. The Hornets will visit Los Angeles in March.
A member of James’ new supporting cast in Los Angeles is longtime nemesis Lance Stephenson, who went head-to-head with the superstar twice while a member of the Hornets in 2015, helping “limit” him to 27 and 25 points.
Stephenson played just one season for the Hornets, averaging 8.2 points as a part-time starter (25 starts).
The veteran has accepted a role off the bench now that he’s joined forces with James and has found a niche, having scored in double figures eight times, including 17 in the loss at Houston.
“Be in attack mode,” Stephenson told reporters of his game plan after Thursday’s game. “Play together, talk on defense. We’ve been doing a great job.”
So had the Hornets before letting one get away on Friday night. Charlotte had opened a five-game homestand with Wednesday’s dramatic, 108-107 victory over the Detroit Pistons for a third straight victory.
But the Hornets failed to make it four in a row against the Knicks despite a well rounded attack that featured 21-point performances from Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum, and a 20-pointer from Marvin Williams.
However, the usually dependable Kemba Walker missed 14 of his 20 shots, including nine of his 13 3-point attempts, on a 14-point night. His was off the mark on a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left in regulation, prompting overtime.
The Hornets are hoping a visit from James can deflect some attention from team owner Michael Jordan, who made national news at the end of Wednesday’s win when he slapped Malik Monk on the back of the head for getting a late technical foul.
“I guess you can understand the response,” Hornets coach James Borrego noted to reporters before Friday’s game. “Michael can create some headlines, I guess.”