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LeBron James and Lakers wowed by Victor Wembanyama, but their coach is frustrated in win

February 24th, 2024

There was no doubt that there would be exciting moments, that was clear by the line of reporters filming Victor Wembanyama’s every step before the game.

Forget that the San Antonio Spurs have won just 11 games — the No. 1 draft pick’s first game in Los Angeles against the Lakers certainly qualified as a big deal, even if the outcome was always a probability.

The Lakers eventually bullied their way to a 123-118 win, their talent edge undeniable against Wembanyama and the baby Spurs.

Yet Friday’s game served an additional purpose. More than a West Coast introduction to a player the Lakers likely will battle for the next decade plus, it was the last shot to work out some kinks before the schedule enters one of the most critical stretches so far.

Read more: Without LeBron James, Lakers’ playoff push starts with misfire against Warriors

Beginning Sunday in Phoenix, the Lakers play seven of their next nine games against teams with better records — including another against the Golden State Warriors, who just beat the Lakers and are surging from the No. 10 spot in the West.

And on that front, there were positives and negatives in the Lakers’ first home game after the All-Star break.

It’s why coach Darvin Ham didn’t even want to talk about Wembanyama until he voiced some level of frustration with his team after the win.

“You want your team to constantly look within and try to make plays and force the other team to put you in uncomfortable positions,” Ham said. “Not you put yourself in those uncomfortable positions, whether it’s not sprinting back in transition or allowing teams to get two or three offensive rebounds. Or, you know, fouling because we’re not in position because we’re not doing our work early. And then going down the other end and not trusting the execution.

“We’ve got a bunch of weapons, but they’re useless if we don’t do the little things — sprinting hard when we get the ball in transition, not turning it over, maintaining spacing, making sure we get hits on screens to create an advantage and making the simple, easy play.”

They did it enough to beat the Spurs, and that was the test Friday. It gets tougher from there.

The offense continued to surge with LeBron James returning to action, he and Anthony Davis leading an undefeated starting five — along with Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell — to its sixth straight win.

“I felt pretty good,” James said after scoring 30 points with nine assists and seven rebounds. “I was more surprised by how well my wind was, to be honest. But ankle did OK. Did so-so. I was happy to get out there and help my team win. That was most important.”

James, who missed the Lakers’ last two games as he received treatment on his bothersome left ankle, quickly found an offensive rhythm as he pushed Spurs defenders around the court. Davis, facing one of the few players in Wembanyama who impact the game in ways similar to how he does, scored 28 to go with 13 rebounds.

Russell contributed 22 points and six assists. Hachimura had 17 points and seven rebounds while Reaves added 10 points with nine assists.

Wembanyama didn’t disappoint — swiping five steals, blocking five shots and dishing eight assists to go with 27 points and 10 rebounds. It was the 22nd “5 by 5” game in NBA history, when a player has at least five in five categories.

At 20 he’s the youngest to do it and just the second player to do it against the Lakers. (Vlade Divac is the only Laker to do it, though records prior to the late 1970s are spotty.)

“He’s 7-foot-12,” Reaves said with a laugh, saying that he stopped counting how many of his shots Wembanyama blocked.

“He doesn’t have a ceiling,” James said.

For the Lakers, reaching their ceiling certainly depends on James and the team’s health. He wouldn’t offer any additional details about the treatment he received on his ankle other than to say he hoped it would offer relief and allow him to finish the season as strongly as possible.

“It wasn’t something that we just came up with out of the blue,” James said. “We had already clocked this months ago, knowing the schedule. So just seeing ways that we can maximize days when we had the opportunity in that stretch right there between last Tuesday [and] when we played here today. It was a beneficial one.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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