LeBron James Drops 32, Leads Lakers to Win vs. Cavs in Return to Cleveland

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 21: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 21, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

LeBron James was victorious in his return to Northeast Ohio as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-105 on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

James finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in his first game against the Cavs since signing with the Lakers. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball chipped in with 14 and 15 points apiece.

Cleveland's Jordan Clarkson had 20 points off the bench against his old team, while Cedi Osman scored a team-high 21 points in a losing effort.


Lakers Need More Consistency from Young Stars

The Lakers entered Wednesday night having won seven of their last nine games to right the ship a bit after a 2-5 start. 

During that run, James averaged 29.7 points while shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 50.9 percent from three-point range. He's not going to maintain that kind of efficiency over the rest of the season, so it's up to the Lakers' younger stars—particularly Ingram, Ball and Kyle Kuzma—to support the four-time league MVP.

Wednesday's win wasn't a great endorsement of the three.

Trevor Lane @Trevor_Lane

Here's the thing, Lakers can't have Zo/Bi/Kuz being outplayed by the Cavs youngsters. That doesn't bode well for the future. Kuzma shouldn't be losing a battle to Cedi Osman, Ingram and Lonzo combined outscored by Sexton. Sooner rather than later, the young core has to step up

Kuzma and Ingram combined for 26 points but just eight rebounds. Ingram especially continues to struggle when sharing the court with James, which is less than ideal since he's a large part of the team's future.

Dan Woike @DanWoikeSports

Like how Luke Walton has staggered Ingram/LeBron. For the Lakers to reach their potential, they need more from Ingram than they've gotten so far. Minutes where he's the primary ball-handler/playmaker should help with that

Anthony F. Irwin @AnthonyIrwinLA

Kuzma and Ingram strike me as guys who are going about trying to stay in the starting lineup in all the wrong ways.

Abandoning the aggression he showed earlier in the game, Ball was scoreless in the fourth quarter, and James was left to do the heavy lifting offensively. And though his point total was encouraging, Ball spent most of his night matched up against Collin Sexton, who has been dreadful on defense.

The Lakers are still just 17 games into the 2018-19 season, and meshing James with the team's developing roster was always going to be tricky. The early returns are a source of frustration rather than encouragement, though.

Kuzma was shooting 29.6 percent on three-pointers heading into the game, and Ingram's numbers are down almost across the board. Ball's offensive improvement is inversely related to his defense. His defensive rating has climbed from 104.8 as a rookie to 111.0, per NBA.com.

The Lakers' ability to add another major star or two alongside James will likely hinge largely on the development of Kuzma, Ingram and Ball. Either the three play well enough to form the foundation of a championship-caliber squad to entice a marquee free agent, or general manager Rob Pelinka can package one or more of the players in a trade to land an All-Star.

At some point, that trio need to take clear steps forward this season.


Cavs Clawing Way Back after Hitting Rock Bottom

The Cavs fired their head coach, started 1-11 and saw The Athletic's Jason Lloyd lay out their internal dysfunction in great detail—all a month into the regular season.

The good news is the worst may finally be over for Cleveland.

For Cavaliers fans, Wednesday's defeat was a pleasant contrast to the Miami Heat's 118-90 bludgeoning of the team when James returned to Cleveland for the first time in December 2010.

Aaron Goldhammer @HammerNation19

So far. Fan reaction and Cavs performance both the opposite of 12/2/10.

The Cavs could've folded at any point. They've been one of the worst teams in the league, and seeing James was a reminder of how much has changed in the space of a few months. Instead, the team pushed Los Angeles to the limit.

Cleveland is at a point where it needs all of the moral victories it can take since actual victories will be few and far between.

Osman's performance was perhaps the most promising aspect of the loss. He shot 5-of-7 from deep and had the confidence to fire away from the perimeter as the Cavs tried to force overtime.

Jordan Zirm @clevezirm

best game Cedi Osman has played in a while

Justin Rowan 🇨🇦 @Cavsanada

Cedi looks healthy and fun again

Sexton remains a major work in progress. He scored just 10 points and notched only two assists. He didn't have any turnovers, though, and generally looks better with each game.

Tristan Thompson had his seventh double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds) of the season. Both he and Clarkson might be more valuable to Cleveland as trade assets than rebuilding pieces, so general manager Koby Altman will welcome any time they showcase their skills.

The Cavaliers will likely finish the year near the bottom of the league. Tanking isn't a lot of fun to watch, but it's more tolerable when in the service of long-term progress. Cleveland may at least be achieving that goal.


What's Next?

The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Friday at Staples Center. The Cavs also return to the court Friday when they face the Philadelphia 76ers on the road.