NBA / cleveland

LeBron Escapes With Win In Homecoming / Looking At The Future Of Lakers Young Core
It wasn't the boos that rang through Quickenloans Arena when the PA introduced LeBron James - it was a litany of cheers. LeBron's second homecoming was markedly different from the first. This time he came through as the proven three-time champion and prodigal son that delivered Cleveland's first championship in eons. The crowd recognized that, thus he received a majority of cheers. But the game was surprisingly close given the Cleveland Cavalier's ineptitude to start the season. They came in with the NBA's worst record at 2-13, but managed to give a Western Conference playoff team a run for their money in a game that went down to the very last seconds. LeBron didn't have as explosive of a game as many predicted (32 pts, 14 rebs, 7 assists, 1 block, 11/20 FG) but he stepped up at the end to bring the home the needed W. Too bad for Laker fans that he didn't go 100% speed sooner. At least they made it interesting! Check the quarter-by-quarter recap below. _______________________________________________________________________________________ Game Recap First Quarter The Lakers shots looked flat-out bad to start the first, but they found success by pounding the interior. JaVale McGee was the beneficiary of some back-cut baskets as well as LeBron. LA went into the opening break of the first quarter with an 8-6 advantage. After we came back from commercials the Cavs pulled up a Thank You video for LeBron on the jumbotron. It was a quick emotional trip down memory lane, and everyone in the building seemed plugged in to the experience. What a difference from his last time coming home. Once LeBron took the floor, he pointed up at the crowd as if give a heartfelt "Thank You" to a crowd of tens of thousands. Everybody in the building seemed like they've grown, moved on, and entered into a state of thankfulness towards LeBron. A heartwarming progression in the timeline of a polarizing athlete. That was nice and all, but we still had a game to play and Cedi Osman stepped up to drain a three to go up 9-8 on the Lakers. The teams kept pace with each other for the majority of the quarter. There were a couple of encouraging defensive spurts by Lakers which included a Josh Hart block on Tristan Thompson, but for the most part LA's D was a step slow. Cleveland got hot at the end nailing a couple threes to go up by four after the first twelve, 28-24. The Cav's energy looked nice, making it seem like this one had a chance to go down to the wire. Second Quarter Turnovers were another problem plaguing the Lakers. LA had a ridiculous nine total turnovers mere minutes into the second quarter while the Cavs didn't even have one! Cleveland stretched their lead to nine as the Lakers struggled to find something that worked against the bum-ass Cavaliers. Cavs up 35-26 right as Luke Walton called time. Not going to lie - I felt the first doubts about the Lakers chances creeping into my head. LeBron sensed that too so he stepped up and made getting buckets a primary goal of his. He tied the game up at 37 with a strong layup to the hole. Cleveland jumped back ahead off of some promising play from Tristan Thompson and Colin Sexton. Cleveland's offense wasn't lights out, but they were taking great care of the ball (zero turnovers in the first half) which led to efficient opportunities. The teams walked into the locker room at the half with the Cavs ahead by a smidge 52-49. Third Quarter It was the same old story to start the third quarter. The Lakers struggled to find their shot while Cleveland hustled and fought for baskets to maintain the narrow lead, 63-59. Tristan Thompson was really battling for those boards down low as well as the young rook Sexton. Things got a little testy prompting Kyle Kuzma to shoot a technical free throw. LA was still searching for their flow in this midwestern showdown. With about eight minutes to go, we got a glimpse of Aggressive Lonzo Ball (who doesn't always make an appearance night to night). Lonzo is a real difference maker when he's engaged, but some wonder if he has the drive to maintain that every night. Time will tell, but tonight we got a driving dunk and a couple hard Lonzo attacks on the rim (one for the and-1) which gave LA the lead back 64-63. But Cleveland came back and nailed a couple open threes to snatch back their 3-point lead. LA's perimeter defense was typically lackluster with LeBron leaving his man open in the corner per usual. Colin Sexton capped a Cleveland run off with a defense-bending layup to send the Cavs up by 5, 71-66 with four minutes to play. It felt like the Cavs had a chance to run away with it because of the Lakers sputtering offense, but a couple three-pointers by Brandon Ingram and KCP gave LA a glimmer of hope. Jordan Clarkson came back with a three of his own, but Lance Stephenson countered with an aggressive and-1 in transition to tie it back up 77-77 less than a minute to play. The score sat at 81-all after the penultimate buzzer of the ball game. Onto the fourth we went. Fourth Quarter Brandon Ingram had the keys to the whip for the bench mob to start the fourth. He ran some point for the Lakers last year and played well, so Luke continued down the Ingram at PG path. He generated some decent looks for guys en route to a rapid series of lead changes by each side. All-in-all, it wasn't enough to jump ahead of the Cavs. Cleveland grabbed the 3-point lead after the first timeout 90-87. They were playing well, unlike their 2-13 record would lead you to believe. LeBron came out of that timeout and chucked an ill-advised three and bricked, to which Jordan Clarkson countered with two straight threes to stretch it to nine 87-96. Things were NOT looking good for the Lakers. They had 7:30 to change the narrative or Cleveland would come away with the big surprise W. LeBron and Ingram responded with a couple buckets in the paint to chop that lead down to five 91-96. And then Cleveland came back with a great Sexton to Clarkson hustle basket to invigorate the crowd and go up seven 91-98. The kitchen was hot! Luke Walton didn't have a traditional center out there which struck me as dumb. Now was the time for LeBron to take over. He started things off by getting to the line and hitting both free throws then following up with a 3-bomb to tie it up 99-all. He got to the line once more to set the Lakers up by two 101-99. Cedi Osman hit a three to tie up at 102, but JaVale McGee countered with a pretty left-handed layup to put the Lakers up two again 104-102. Cavs had the ball with the chance to tie it up, but McGee got a HUGE rejection off Sexton at the rim to regain possession. LeBron ended up getting the rock and held it for the length of the clock, but ended up chucking a ball that rimmed out. Lakers retained possession of the ball after reviewing a turnover. With 22 seconds to play and the Lakers up two Lonzo inbounded the ball to LeBron who was fouled immediately. He went to the line to shoot free throws and bricked the first but made the second. More late-game free throw woes for LeBron. Cavs got the ball off the inbound and ran an amazing play for Korver who caught the ball off a screen for a turnaround three - but missed! Korver was wiiiiide open. They were lucky he didn't make that. KCP went to the line for free throws where he made both (take notes LeBron) to make it a five-point game with 15 seconds to play 107-102. This game felt like it was over, but Cedi Osman curled off a screen to hit a quick three making it a two-point game 107-105, 11 seconds to play. Game wasn't over yet folks! KCP ended up catching the inbound again and went to the line, doing his job by hitting both free throws. The Cavs were down four and heaved up a desperation three which bricked hard. Lakers rebounded and collected the W in hostile territory 109-105 _______________________________________________________________________________________ Takeaways Well that was a game that was a lot closer than it needed to be. I was going to be PISSED if the Lakers gave that one away. The issues of consistency that plagued the pre-LeBron Lakers were evident in Cleveland's loss tonight. They allowed the Lakers to go on an almost 20-point run to rally for the victory. Young teams are always bad at closing games out. It's rare that you get a young gun who can lead their team to big victories over squads with established players. That makes what Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell did during their rookie years even more remakable. They were playing some GROWN MAN basketball. Colin Sexton showed some serious heart though. I'd be excited to have him if I was a Cavs fan. This win puts the Lakers at 10-7 and marks a surprising( but not so surprising) milestone for the Lakers. This is the first time they're 3 games above .500 since the 2012-13 season. The one where we ran the Steve Nash/Dwight Howard experiment and Kobe tore his Achilles at the end. That was the last time that we had a functional Kobe, and it was also the last time that I felt like games had meaningful weight to them prior to LeBron joining. We've been floating in this dull state of irrelevance since then. Hopefully those times are behind us for the next four years. Out of the things I liked the most in this game, one was Lonzo's spurt of aggressiveness in the third quarter. He was out here hunting for buckets and charging hard to the rim for layups and and-1's. I feel like he hesitates to drive hard to the hoop partly due to a lack of confidence in his foul shot. His efficiency at the rim wasn't that great last year though (48% from within three feet) and it has only marginally improved this season (53% within three feet entering this game per Alex Regala of SB Nation). If he can make steady improvements there he will open up a world of new possibilities. His defense is usually acceptable to excpectional (except for that last play where he left Korver wide open), but the young Ball needs to keep playing aggressive on offense every night! He might never be a high scorer at this level, but when he's a threat to score it shifts the entire energy of that end of the floor. You can feel it. He really opens up opportunities the when he drives to the hoop and coupled with his excellent court vision - it's a wrap. He put in a nice line for himself tonight though (15 pts, 7 rebs, 6 assists, 1 steal, 7/11 FG, & the highest team +/- rating of +16), so let's hope he carries this momentum into their next game against the Jazz. I feel like the Lakers still have this untapped potential in their young guys that they haven't exploited. Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball still haven't broken out and played at a high level consistently. Josh Hart has been pretty good day-in-day-out. This is something that takes nothing but time and deliberate dedication to greatness. It's not surprising it hasn't happened yet, but I long for that day to come. Once all the young guys get their confidence and Luke/Lakers management figures out how to utilize all these pieces together...this is going to be one deadly, exciting squad. Let's hope they can get something going this season, because I feel like this year is really just a tryout for next year. The young core are going to need extensions sooner than we think. Right now it's like they're playing for the right to play next to LeBron in his surprisingly effective twilight years. The dynamic of the team will be drastically different depending on if they grab a big-time free agent like Kevin Durant. Maybe you don't need someone like Brandon Ingram if you already have KD and LeBron on the team. And if the franchise fails to nab a marquee free agent this summer, the young guys that underperformed will be up for grabs on the trading block for a proven star. So while it may feel like this is a year without true championship expectations, the pressure to show your potential is ever-present for the young bucks. Thank you for reading and check out the game highlights below!

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