James’ triple-double leads Cavs past Lakers
CLEVELAND — LeBron James looked up to Larry Bird. Lonzo Ball looked up to James.
It all came full circle in Cleveland on Thursday, when James tied Bird for sixth all-time in triple-doubles and the Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 121-112 in Ball’s first game against one of his idols.
James’ 59th triple-double in 15 seasons consisted of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Bird reached 59 in 13 seasons with the Celtics.
“He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” James said of Bird. “Kid from French Lick. Boston. And one of the few guys that ever be in a 3-point contest and shoot with a warmup shirt on. He played until he couldn’t play no more.
“And for young guys that don’t know him, they think of Larry Bird as a jump shooter. But he was so much more than that. He was a passer. He averaged double-digit rebounds. He defended. He took charges.”
James said he looked up to Bird, Scottie Pippen, Julius Erving and George Gervin as small forwards.
Ball, the No. 2 overall draft pick of the Lakers in 2017, finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He received a pep talk after the game from James.
“He’s said over and over since he was growing up and who he modeled his game after,” James said of Ball. “Who was his favorite player? It was me, and I was humbled by that.”
Ball, who used to have a poster of James on his wall, said of James: “Watching him doesn’t do him justice. He has that size, that speed. I’d say he’s the best player in the right world now.”
Ball said playing against his idol for the first time was “pretty cool.”
Kevin Love led all scorers with 28 points while Jose Calderon added a season-high 17 points for Cleveland. Brandon Ingram paced the Lakers with 26 points.
The Cavs scored 100 points for the 22nd consecutive game. James dunked with 2:20 left and nailed a six-footer with 1:38 remaining for a 117-108 lead.
Lakers rookie Josh Hart scored a career-high 11 with 10 rebounds in his first pro start. Hart played in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was not with the team.
“For a national television game and his first start as a rookie, I think he showed where he came from as a college player winning a national championship title and playing for a big-time program (Villanova) for many years,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of Hart. “That big stage didn’t faze him at all today so great work for him.”
J.R. Smith (1,830) passed Chauncey Billups (1,830 3-pointers) for 11th in NBA history in 3-pointers. Smith finished with eight points — the only Cleveland starter not to score in double figures. Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver scored 10 points apiece off the Cavs’ bench.
“We’re shooting the ball better,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think having 15 threes tonight, having 20 the other night, guys are shooting the basketball a lot better. When we’re making shots, like I said, we’re tough to guard.”
Love scored 13 points in the third quarter, pushing the Cavs to a 94-86 advantage.
The Cavs trailed by as many as nine in the second quarter but led at halftime 63-60. They nailed 10 3s in the first half for a franchise-record 18 games with at least 10 3-pointers.
Brook Lopez had a rough stretch in the quarter, beginning when he merely moved out of the way instead of contesting a James dunk with 5:39 left. Lopez then grazed the front of the net on consecutive free throws, and was stuffed by the rim on his own dunk attempt.
The Lakers led 26-24 at the end of one. James drive and short jumper at the buzzer pulled Cleveland closer.
“I thought we had a road mentality for half the game tonight, which is not enough to beat a really good team in Cleveland,” Walton said.
NOTES: Lakers G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was not with the team due to an unspecified personal reason. This was the last of a four-game road trip for Los Angeles. ... The Cavs, who’ve won 16 of 17, have a game left on this four-game homestand. They’re 3-0. ... Cavs C Tristan Thompson (left calf soreness) was a late scratch after experiencing trouble trying to warm up. He’s missed 20 of the last 21 games after suffering a calf injury Nov. 1. Coach Tyronn Lue had said before Thompson was scratched that he would only play in the first half against the Lakers and would be re-evaluated before the game Saturday against the Utah Jazz. Thompson only returned to game action Tuesday, playing six minutes against the Hawks. ... Cavs G Dwyane Wade returned after missing Tuesday’s game with left knee soreness. ... Lakers F Corey Brewer appeared in his 304th consecutive game Thursday, the NBA’s longest active streak. The previous active consecutive games streak bearer was Thompson, whose 447-game streak ended in April. ... LeBron James’ production company, SpringHill Entertainment, fired director Morgan Spurlock from a docuseries chronicling James’ opening of a public school in Akron because of Spurlock’s admission to past sexual misconduct.