40 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in 34 minutes - LeBron came ready to show Zion what's it like to play against the best. Not all regular-season games are created equal, and this one gave us playoff LeBron. Last night LeBron reminded us that other people are having better regular seasons because he allowed it.
The Lakers are 19 - 0 when LeBron is their leading scorer; that's good and bad news. The whole point of having Anthony Davis is to let LeBron take a back seat at times, bring his minutes down and not have to carry the team through the playoffs. As great as they have been with Lebron, the Lakers are a below-average offense when he sits. Anthony Davis and four Lakers not named LeBron is not a team anyone worries about.
Out off all the problems you can have, this is a good problem to have. What you want to see as a Laker fan is LeBron's minutes going down a bit for the rest of the regular season - he's averaging 34.9 this season. For comparison, Giannis is at 30.9., and he's 10 years younger with a lot fewer minutes on his body. You want those minutes down to make sure you get yesterday's LeBron in the playoffs.
“LeBron had a different bounce to him tonight. This was LeBron at 28 years old. The speed, the skill, the force, the decisiveness on how he's going to attack.”
Tim Legler, ESPN
The best eye test you can have is simple - is LeBron settling for jump shots or going to the rim. Last night he spent the entire game punishing smaller defenders. The other star of the night is the Lakers' secret weapon, fan-favorite Alex Caruso. The moment he stepped on the court, the Lakers went up a gear, but Caruso brought more than energy and noise from the crowd. AC had 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists - his playmaking was particularly great, and it culminated with a smooth between the leg pass to LeBron for a monster dunk.
Both LeBron and Davis had only words of praise for Zion after the game. As told many times before, the most fascinating thing is how quick and smooth he is at that size. We've had big guys in the NBA before, but Zion's feel for the game is something that makes him a special prospect. This game was important because it may be the intro to a first-round playoff series.
The Pelicans are currently 10th in the West, and are 3.5 back from the 8th Grizzlies in the loss column. But, the Pelicans have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, while the Grizzlies have the most difficult one. The 9th place Blazers are without Lillard, so out of the teams fighting for the 8th seed in the West, the Pelicans have the best projected odds - 68% according to FiveThirtyEight.
With what we saw tonight, and Zion getting 20+ more games under his belt, it would be an amazing first-round series. Not to mention the fact that we'd have Davis going back to New Orleans and Lonzo, Ingram and Hart hungry to prove themselves over the team that traded them and against the player they were traded for.