Playoff mode activated.
LeBron James scored 29 points and the Los Angeles Lakers snapped a five-game home losing streak to the Houston Rockets, 111-106, on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Less than 24 hours after James proclaimed that his “playoff intensity level had been activated,” the four-time NBA MVP put his money where his mouth is, when he helped the Lakers erase a 19-point second half deficit.
“It wasn’t that I needed to reach another level [of intensity], it was that I needed to be at that level right now,” said James of his comments and whether or not his performance on Thursday was what he meant. “The circumstances that we’re in, I needed to kickstart something a little bit earlier than I’ve done in the past. Tonight was a good step in the right direction.”
James led the Lakers to victory with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Brandon Ingram chipped in 27 points and 13 rebounds as all five starters scored in double figures.
“We showed that grit and grind tonight,” said James of the comeback. “We played Laker basketball. Hopefully we can continue that on the road.”
Kyle Kuzma had 18 points, Reggie Bullock had 14, and Javale McGee had 11 points and two blocks.
“In the first quarter a lot of our heads were down,” admitted Kuzma. “We adjusted and came back from being down 19. We made key plays down the stretch.”
James Harden had a game-high 30 points in the loss. Chris Paul had 23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in his first game against the Lakers since he was suspended for an altercation with Rajon Rondo at Staples Center during the second game of the season. Paul missed 16 games before the NBA All-Star Break with a hamstring injury.
“We know what we’re capable of. We know that we can get the lead, so now we just have to figure out how to keep it,” said Paul after the loss. “We just have to keep playing and fighting and making sure our spirits are right.”
Both teams showed signs of rust to start the game. Paul and Harden were a combined 7-for-18 in the first half, and LeBron was a paltry 5-for-13 from the field.
After a back-and-forth battle in the first quarter, the Rockets led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, before Los Angeles cut the lead to four points just before the half.
Houston opened up the third quarter on a 9-2 run to take an early 13-point lead, eventually extending the lead to 19 points before the Lakers mounted their comeback.
“It got ugly in that third quarter,” said James.
Led by James, the Lakers took the lead 98-97 with 4:15 remaining in the game, their first lead since midway through the first quarter.
“He’s had more of a serious focus on his face over the last two days,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton about James. “I think he recognized where we were at and the urgency we needed to play with. He was huge in getting a win for us tonight.”
Harden fouled out on back-to-back offensive fouls with just over a minute remaining. Paul would foul out 40 seconds later with the game slipping away.
“I sacrifice my body, I sacrifice for my team. I’ll take a charge, and get defensive rebounds. Whatever it takes to win ball games,” added James of the offensive fouls on Harden, one of which he drew.
The Lakers went 18-for-18 from the free throw line down the stretch.
The victory snapped a five-game home losing streak to the Rockets, and a three-game losing streak to Houston this season.
Los Angeles now has six come from behind victories this season when trailing by 15 points or more in the game.
Two players acquired at the NBA trade deadline made their debut in the Rockets-Lakers rivalry. Reggie Bullock made just his third start with the Lakers and Kenneth Faried saw his first action against the Lakers, in his 13th game with Houston.
Notes and Next
Lonzo Ball (left ankle sprain) and Mike Muscala (right ankle sprain) both missed the game. Clint Capela returned from a right thumb injury and made his first start since Jan. 13.
Los Angeles will travel to New Orleans where they will take on Anthony Davis and the Pelicans on Saturday.