• The Lakers soundly defeated the Cavaliers 127-113 on Sunday night. Los Angeles was so dominant that LeBron James sat out the final 6:25 of the game as the Lakers were up 21 points by that point.

    This game carried a lot of subplots and emotion — it marked the first time that Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson returned to Los Angeles after a February 8 trade that sent them to Cleveland for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cavs’ 2018 first-round draft pick. An additional element has been the Lakers’ attempts to clear cap space for this offseason and their reported interest in adding James during free agency.

    If this was an audition for James’ services, the Lakers did their part.

    Los Angeles outplayed the Cavs from the get-go, leading the game by four points at the end of the first quarter. Two key players early on were Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who combined for 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and one block on a combined 9-of-13 from the field.

    The Lakers continued to control the game through the half, extending their lead to five points at 65-60. The statistical comparison revealed a greater dominance than the score demonstrated: The Lakers led 27-17 on the glass, 19-11 in assists and outshot the Cavs from the field, free throw line and 3-point range. The only thing keeping Cleveland within reach was the 6-2 disparity in turnovers in their favor, as well as the corresponding 9-0 advantage in points off of turnovers.

    A 9-0 run by Cleveland to tie the game at 72 had Laker fans concerned — particularly since Los Angeles had relinquished double-digit leads in their last three games.

    Thomas re-entered the game with four minutes left in the third quarter with the Lakers clinging to a four-point lead. He promptly sparked the Lakers to an 18-3 run to extend the Lakers’ lead to 19 points — effectively ending the game. Thomas was on fire in the second half, contributing 14 points, six assists, two rebounds and one steal on 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line. For the game he finished with 20 points, nine assists, five rebounds and one steal. He looked like his old self for stretches, penetrating at will and really opening the game up for his teammates. Thomas repeatedly looked towards the Cavs’ bench for long periods, especially as the Lakers began to pull away.

    The player of the game was Julius Randle, who was assertive on both ends of the court. He tallied a career-high 36 points while adding 14 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, two blocks and a game-high plus-19 rating. He was also extremely efficient, shooting 14-of-18 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. He looked like himself again after overcoming an illness that limited him during his last two outings. People have hypothesized that the Lakers need to let Randle go in order to pair James with another max free agent this offseason — that plan should no longer be an option after his recent play and tonight’s stellar outing in particular.

    Lopez, in the midst of his best stretch as a Laker, scored over 20 points for the third consecutive game. He finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks while shooting 10-of-18 from the field and 2-of-4 from 3-point range. He continues to play with a new-found energy on both ends of the court, demonstrating the form that Laker fans had hoped to see all season.

    Another veteran to step up for Los Angeles was Caldwell-Pope, who contributed 20 points, six rebounds, one assist, two steals and a plus-15 rating. He was extremely efficient across the board, knocking down 7-of-13 from the field, 4-of-8 from 3-point range and 2-of-2 from the line. He is one of the best Lakers at moving without the ball and has excelled on the boards of late as well.

    Kyle Kuzma accumulated his 13th double-double on the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, though he only shot 4-of-14 from the field.

    One Laker who did not play his best was Lonzo Ball, who shot 2-of-11 from the field and only 1-of-6 from 3-point range to finish with five points, three rebounds, seven assists and one steal. He even missed an open dunk during the game, something his teammate and friend Kuzma made sure to point out to the media after the game.

    James led the Cavs with 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block on 9-of-20 from the field, 2-of-8 from 3-point range and 4-of-5 from the line. He looked like his usual amazing self but simply did not have the help necessary to overcome a motivated Laker team. One thing that the Lakers’ fans, players and organization will relish was James’ post-game interview in which he complimented the Lakers’ improvement under coach Luke WaltonJames noticed Randle in particular.

    Nance Jr. finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and one assist on 7-of-12 shooting from the field. He was outmatched by Lopez and Randle, earning five personal fouls and a minus-5 rating. He committed two turnovers tonight after totaling only three turnovers in his previous 11 outings for the Cavs.

    He fared better than Clarkson, who appeared rattled in his return to Los Angeles, making poor decisions in all facets of his game tonight. He struggled to the tune of four points, four assists and a minus-17 rating on only 1-of-8 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 from 3-point range.

    The Lakers’ victory made it 11-of-12 at home and 6-of-8 overall since the All-Star break. This was their first win against the Cavs since February 14, 2014.

    After the loss, the Cavs’ first-round pick to be conveyed to the Lakers in the 2018 moved up to No. 21. Laker fans will be rooting against Cleveland for a multitude of reasons going forward.

    One of the only blemishes on the night for the Lakers was the news that Brandon Ingram was evaluated by the Lakers’ medical staff during the game; although he is improving, he is expected to miss that Lakers’ back-to-back set starting on Tuesday.

    Key Stats and Observations

    -The Lakers crushed the Cavs on the boards with a 51-37 advantage in that category. Los Angeles had a 14-7 edge in offensive rebounding and a 37-30 lead on the defensive glass.

    -Los Angeles continued their recent surge in free throw shooting, knocking down 18-of-20 (90.0 percent) vs. 19-of-23 (82.6 percent) for Cleveland.

    -The Lakers has 30 assists compared to 22 assists for the Cavs. This advantage was most pronounced in the first quarter when the Lakers had an 11-3 edge in team helpers.

    -Los Angeles did not commit a turnover in the first quarter. After committing six in the second period to go into the half down 6-2 in that area, the Lakers got their errors under control to finish with only 13 total miscues compared to 12 for Cleveland.

    -The Lakers continued their season-long dominance in the paint, outscoring the Cavs 62-50 in the key.

    -The Lakers continued their good post-break shooting, converting 48-of-96 from the field (50.0 percent) and 13-of-34 from 3-point range (38.2 percent). Cleveland also shot well, hitting 41-of-88 (46.6 percent) and 12-of-31 (38.7 percent) from 3-point range. However, Cleveland was outperformed in almost every other facet of Sunday’s game.

    -Los Angeles had nine steals in contrast to Cleveland, who only tallied four steals in this competition.

    Randle became the first Laker to accumulate 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists since Kobe Bryant.

    Up Next

    The Lakers host Denver on Tuesday night with a shot at redemption against Jamal Murray and the Nuggets.

    Murray incurred the wrath of the Lakers for the second time this season after talking trash towards the Lakers’ bench during Denver’s recent comeback win against Los Angeles. He infuriated coach Walton to the point where he had to be restrained from going after Murray. His first brash incident occurred earlier in the season when he dribbled around Ball during the waning seconds of a Nuggets’ victory.

    Although the Nuggets have taken two of three against the Lakers, Los Angeles was tied with Denver at 100 in their first loss and had a double-digit lead before collapsing in the second meeting.

    Denver is led by All-Star center Nikola Jokic, who earned his seventh triple-double of the season against Sacramento on Sunday.

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