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LeBron James scores 43 as Lakers knock off Hornets

Lakers center Thomas Bryant dunks over Charlotte Hornets center Mason Plumlee during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The Charlotte Hornets’ Terry Rozier, left, drives to the basket against Lakers guard Russell Westbrook during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Lakers’ Patrick Beverley, left, blocks a shot by the Charlotte Hornets’ Terry Rozier during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots between Charlotte Hornets forward Jalen McDaniels, left, and forward P.J. Washington during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates after scoring during the first half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington passes around Lakers center Thomas Bryant during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers forward LeBron James drives to the basket past Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Charlotte Hornets center Mark Williams blocks a shot by Lakers guard Austin Reaves as guard LaMelo Ball looks on during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers forward Juan Toscano-Anderson looks to pass during the second half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Lakers coach Darvin Ham calls out to his team during the first half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots over Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers forward Troy Brown Jr. and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball vie for the ball during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder passes the ball as the Charlotte Hornets’ Mason Plumlee, left, and Terry Rozier defend during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots over Charlotte Hornets center Mark Williams during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder shoots around Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers center Thomas Bryant, left, vies for the ball with Charlotte Hornets center Mason Plumlee, center, and guard Terry Rozier during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots over Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington during the first half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Injured Lakers star Anthony Davis, center, looks on from the bench alongside Thomas Bryant, left, and Juan Toscano-Anderson, right, during the first half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Lakers star LeBron James gestures following a play during the first half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball drives to the basket past Lakers guard Dennis Schroder during the second half on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The Charlotte Hornets react to a foul call during the second half of their game against the Lakers on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The Lakers’ Thomas Bryant dunks during the second half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Lakers’ Thomas Bryant reacts after dunking during the second half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An hour before tip-off, the Lakers were grimly watching the monitor in their locker room. The game on the TV: Their final quarter from the last time they played these Hornets, less than two weeks ago.

They grimaced. Occasionally they muttered: “That didn’t get called?” or “Can’t believe I missed that.”

The heavy atmosphere underscored a feeling permeating the team: The Lakers didn’t want to let another one get away against Charlotte.

Even without three of the team’s top four scorers finishing the game, the Lakers (16-21) still had enough to exit the Spectrum Center with a 121-115 win – led by LeBron James with 43 points, his second straight game of 40 or more, and both in wins.

James has been blistering since All-Star big man Anthony Davis has been injured, averaging nearly 35 points on 58.5% shooting in his last nine appearances. It has started to resemble his heater last season, when it looked as though the four-time league MVP could challenge to lead the league in scoring – now James is a year older, but his bullying drives to the basket were positively vintage.

“Obviously, found a good groove last year,” James said. “But this year is this year, as well. I feel really good in every facet of my game.”

The game had a different flavor than the previous matchup, when the Lakers gave up 32 points off of turnovers and 14 second-chance points, as Coach Darvin Ham pointedly referenced in his pregame comments. In the rematch, the combined points in those categories dropped to 16, as the Lakers scrapped for 53 rebounds and ran back in transition.

James was the chief aggressor, flying in transition for a few alley-oops, including a third-quarter reverse dunk from Dennis Schröder at an extremely awkward angle. He also hit early turnaround jumpers in the paint, an early sign that the 38-year-old was primed for another big game after his season-high 47 points in Atlanta. He was 16 for 26 from the field, piling up points in spite of going 0 for 5 on 3-point attempts.

“He’s really at this point where I think the game is completely slowed down for him where he can see things three, four plays ahead; three, four, five seconds ahead,” Ham said. “He’s doing a great job knowing when to attack. Really getting out and running and getting some easy buckets in transition. Reading the pick-and-roll when he’s setting the screen, whether he’s handling. … It’s giving his teammates around him a ton of confidence where teams just can’t collapse the defense on LeBron.”

While they led by as much as 24, they had to sweat out a close finish. James hit four free throws in the final 17 seconds to seal the result, giving the Lakers a 3-2 record on their road trip.

It was made all the more difficult by a second-half scratch for Russell Westbrook, who had a tough night with two points and two assists on 1-for-8 shooting. He didn’t rejoin the team in the second half with left foot soreness, an injury that led to him sitting out two games in December.

James also finished with 11 rebounds and six assists on 16-for-26 shooting. Four other Lakers finished in double figures, led by Thomas Bryant with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

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Charlotte guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier combined for 52 points – surging late in the fourth quarter when the Hornets outscored their visitors by 12 points. But for Ball, in particular, he found tougher defensive resistance against Patrick Beverley (who had three first-half blocked shots) and Schröder, going just 9 for 22 with five turnovers.

“Game was fun that way,” Beverley said. “Anytime you get the ball in transition, we’re a hard team to beat. That goes with getting stops and getting rebounds, deflections and all that. If we are that type of team for, I don’t know, two or three quarters, we put ourselves in position to win a lot of basketball games.”

James is just the second player to have back-to-back games of 40 points or more at age 38 or older, joining Michael Jordan. James has now scored 40 or more points in 71 games in his career, a feat that he found a lot easier in his first game in 2004 as a 19-year-old rookie than now, he said.

“I don’t think at 18 you have to worry about getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep every night, to worry about making sure you’re doing everything you need to do to get ready. You can really just go out and not stretch and just be at your best at the highest level,” he said. “But it’s always about giving back to the game, treating the game the right way. Because the Game Gods will always pay you back if you always commit to the game the right way, and I’m still trying to do this at this point in my career.”

LeBron tonight in the Lakers W:

43 PTS
11 REB
6 AST

He becomes the second player in NBA history to record back-to-back 40+ point games at age 35 or older, joining Michael Jordan. pic.twitter.com/8RtoNJwuJ4

— NBA (@NBA) January 3, 2023

“It’s always a blessing when you’re able to put on the uniform and play in front of fans that have watched me for the last 20 years.” @KingJames on his performance in the east coast road trip. @LakersReporter pic.twitter.com/jcOxbBsZtE

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 3, 2023

“I think we came out with a defensive focus, just really guys being engaged.” Coach Ham on his takeaways from tonight’s #Lakers win. pic.twitter.com/ZxF39ZgQdg

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 3, 2023

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