CLEVELAND — LeBron James broke them all out — the fadeaway jumper, the fly-through-the-lane shot, some signature dunks, one over former teammate and friend Kevin Love, the patented pregame chalk toss.
Back home, in front of the fans who know him almost like family, James showed he's still the game's most dominant force.
James scored 38 points, notched another triple-double and sparked memories of his time in Cleveland, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 131-120 win Monday over the Cavaliers, who had a horrid defensive night.
It was James' only visit home this season — other than the All-Star Game last month — and the star from Akron thrilled fans who have followed him since he was a boy. He added 10 rebounds and 12 assists for his 105th career triple-double and sixth this season.
“I’m all out of words,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "I don’t have any more. He was in control, had an all-time dunk on his old teammate — his old friend, which I’m sure they enjoyed and will talk about. What a hell of a night.”
James played 11 seasons in two stints with the Cavs, who are trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time since he left in 2018. The 37-year-old said playing in front of a Cleveland crowd will always bring out his best.
“They’ve seen pretty much my whole life in basketball,” he said. "Either seen me or heard about it, who is this kid from 40 minutes south of here playing ball at age 9, 10, 11 , 12? Who is this LeBron kid? And they either drove down to see me or saw me when I came to Cleveland and played in AAU tournaments and seem me play in high school games in the Cleveland area, so they’ve seen me for almost 30 years, since I picked up a basketball.
"That's the difference between this arena and every other arena in the world.”
James stays defiant
James is trying to keep the Lakers in the postseason picture in what to this point has been a disappointing season. They're ninth in the Western Conference, but as long as they have James, they've got a shot.
He has heard all the narratives about the Lakers — too old, too hurt and too disconnected — and can't be bothered.
“None of that stuff matters to me,” he said. “I’m having a blast playing the game of basketball. Once I leave the arena, I leave it there. I’m really having the time of my life right now. I’m working through it and we’re working through it and that’s all that matters.”
Russell Westbrook, who has had a poor season, had 20 and 11 assists, and D.J. Augustin added 20 points, making all six 3-pointers.
“There is nothing better than shutting people up,” Westbrook said.
Darius Garland scored 29 and added 17 assists for Cleveland, which came in leading Toronto by one game for the No. 6 spot in the East. The Cavs will play the Raptors on Thursday night.
Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff was angry with how his young team performed.
“We got caught up in the show," Bickerstaff said. "We allowed this moment to overtake us. You ask yourself were we really competing to win or were we just a part of it? I think tonight we were mostly just a part of it.”
James scored five points as the Lakers opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run to go up by nine. Cleveland was still within striking distance when James, as he has done so many times to so many teams before, put the Cavs away with a thunderous dunk and jumper in the final 2:34.
After his postgame TV interview, James left slapping hands with fans on his way to the locker room.
James improved to 17-1 in games against the Cavs. He has averaged 29.6 points against Cleveland — his most against any opponent.
The four-time MVP and champion was cheered from the moment he ran onto the floor for warmups. He received a huge ovation during player introductions and again in a first-quarter timeout when the Cavs saluted him for becoming the No. 2 scorer in league history.
James waved, patted his heart, put his hands together as if in prayer and bowed toward the Cleveland fans.
He was just getting started.
Lakers: Stanley Johnson scored all 12 of his points in the fourth. ... Anthony Davis, out since Feb. 16 with a foot sprain, got in an extended pregame workout on the floor. It's still unclear when — or if — he'll back back this season. ... G Talen Horton-Tucker (left ankle sprain) sat out for the second time in three games.
Cavaliers: All-Star center Jarrett Allen (broken finger) missed his eighth straight game. Allen is second in the NBA with a .677 field goal percentage and has enough makes to qualify for the season-ending leaders … G Rajon Rondo (sprained ankle) and F Dean Wade (knee soreness) were inactive for their fifth games in a row.
Lakers: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
Cavaliers: Visit Toronto on Thursday night.
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