Chauncey Billups was there more than 20 years ago when LeBron James played in his first NBA game, a preseason contest in Detroit against Billups’ Pistons.
He was there again Friday, now coaching the Trail Blazers in Portland with grey speckled into his beard, still watching James go to work.
Now 7,351 days into his legendary NBA career, James is still delivering, leading the Lakers to a 107-95 win in Portland, keeping the Lakers undefeated in the in-season tournament.
“He played like himself,” Anthony Davis said. “Like, the guy that’s the No. 1 point scorer in the league — well, in history.”
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James shook his head after he glided to the basket for an early score. He pointed at his arm after he swished home a three-point shot, and flexed and shrugged his shoulders after playing through contact in the fourth.
He finished with 35 points, tying his season high, while collecting nine assists, showing only the faintest signs of slowing down in his 21st NBA season. Seven of James’ assists came in the fourth quarter as the Lakers held off Portland in a game they never trailed.
“To see that and just to see him now, it’s just incredible, man,” Billups said before the game. “What he’s been able to do, what he’s been able to continue to do. We all, one day when we get really old, we’ll be telling our grandkids and stuff that we watched that whole movie. So we’re all pretty lucky to be able to say that.”
James said he was feeling worn out after playing four games in six nights while fighting off a cold. On the court, though, there weren’t any signs of fatigue.
“Once I step on the floor, I’m super excited to be out there, try to win, help my team win games,” James said. “That hasn’t changed.”
The Lakers finish pool play in the inaugural in-season tournament Tuesday against the Utah Jazz and can clinch a place in the single-elimination portion with a win. The Lakers got positive contributions from each of the main eight players in coach Darvin Ham’s rotation.
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Cam Reddish’s point-of-attack defense helped create a handful of Portland’s 19 turnovers, which led to 27 points. Davis shook off a slow shooting start to score 16 points and grab 14 rebounds with five blocks and three steals. And Christian Wood had one of his best games off the Lakers’ bench with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“Man, I’m just trying to win,” Reddish said. “I feel like winning will bring good energy. So I bring my energy defensively. Obviously, it’s not like what I’m accustomed when I was growing up and stuff, but it’s the league. You just got to make the most out of every opportunity. And I feel like I’m doing a decent job of that and I’m going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”
The Lakers have won four of their last five games, including all three of their tournament games.
“I think it’s an incentive for sure. Early in the season, when you are playing the in-season tournament, so we understand what’s at stake,” James said. “It’s not something we’re putting all our eggs in one basket in the in-season tournament. But we know when the games come, every Tuesday and Friday, we know what it’s about, we know what’s at stake. So, it’s been good for us so far.”
The Lakers play Sunday in Los Angeles against Houston.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.