LeBron James scores 48 as Lakers fend off Rockets to snap skid

Lakers star LeBron James flexes his arm during the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James drives to the basket while under pressure from the Houston Rockets’ Alperen Sengun (28) during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green, right, shoots as the Lakers’ Troy Brown Jr., left, defends during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook shoots as the Houston Rockets’ Alperen Sengun defends during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ LeBron James passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook goes up for a shot between the Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon, left, and Jabari Smith Jr. during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Kenyon Martin Jr. goes up for a dunk as Lakers players watch during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers’ Dennis Schroder drives past the Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel defends during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ Juan Toscano-Anderson goes up for a shot in front of the Houston Rockets’ Jabari Smith Jr. during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Alperen Sengun grabs the ball during the first half of their game against the Lakers on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James dribbles up the court during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ LeBron James screams in celebration after dunking during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Houston Rockets center Boban Marjanovic watches from the sidelines during the first half of their game against the Lakers on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ LeBron James shoots after getting past the Houston Rockets’ Kenyon Martin Jr. during the first half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James gestures after making a basket and drawing a foul during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James handles the ball during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James gestures during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon, left, is defended by the Lakers’ Thomas Bryant during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ LeBron James handles the ball as the Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon defends during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Alperen Sengun dunks during the second half of their game against the Lakers on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James looks on during a pause in play in the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon, left, has his shot blocked by the Lakers’ Thomas Bryant (31) during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ LeBron James puts up a shot as the Houston Rockets’ Alperen Sengun defends during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook, right, fouls the Houston Rockets’ Kenyon Martin Jr. during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James and fans celebrate after he made a 3-point basket during the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James and fans celebrate after he made a 3-point basket during the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Josh Christopher shoots as the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook, right, and Wenyen Gabriel (35) defend during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon is defended by the Lakers’ LeBron James during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James reacts to a foul call on the Houston Rockets during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Jae’Sean Tate, right, goes up for a shot as the Lakers’ Wenyen Gabriel, center, and Russell Westbrook (0) defend during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers guard Dennis Schroder handles the ball during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Houston Rockets’ Alperen Sengun is defended by the Lakers’ Thomas Bryant during the second half on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James smiles during the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Lakers star LeBron James gestures as he walks on the court during the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Injured Lakers star Anthony Davis watches from the sidelines during the first half of their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Lakers’ LeBron James wears a T-shirt celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day during warmups before their game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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LOS ANGELES — There wasn’t a last-second shot to dispute this time. The Lakers made sure of that Monday night with a big game from LeBron James and a few key stops in the final minutes.

James assured the Lakers of a controversy-free victory, scoring 20 of his season-high 48 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a 140-132 victory over the Houston Rockets at Crypto.com Arena. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Lakers (20-24) and extended the Rockets’ slide to 11 consecutive games.

“That’s the great thing about this league, you don’t get long to feel sorry for yourself. And you also get a chance to hit the restart button and try to get it right,” Coach Darvin Ham said.

Ham said it was important to put aside any lingering anger over the non-call at the end of Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia. The Lakers need victories, not resentment over past outcomes.

It helped that the Lakers had little time to dwell on Sixers center Joel Embiid not being called for a foul on Russell Westbrook the night before, a call that was backed up by the league in the Last Two Minute Report it issued on Monday. There was another game to play.

“Just with that hammer, man, (we have to) keep chipping away at the rock,” Ham said. “As I mentioned, it can be disappointing, but you have to get past that. You got to shake it off. You got another game you got to tee up tonight.”

This was James’ third 40-point game since turning 38 years old on Dec. 30 and the 100th of his career – including the postseason. Despite a sore ankle, he carried the depleted squad for long stretches, punctuated by fierce dunks and his five 3-pointers (to go with nine assists and eight rebounds), but it still wasn’t enough for a comfortable win.

“For him to be at this point in his career and still able to produce at the level in which he’s producing, I just think all of us just really being able to witness it, be a part of it, it shows his competitive spirit and his no-quit mentality,” Ham said. “Whenever he’s out there, man, he’s just competing. And just how efficient he’s been as well. It’s amazing to see. He wants to win. We all want to win. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

Even more impressive was that James posted his numbers on the second night of a back-to-back. He said he was tired after Sunday’s tight game.

“I was extremely exhausted today, extremely tired,” he said “Body was sore from the battle that we had yesterday versus Philly. I guess once I step on the floor for warmups and the crowd fills in, it’s my job to go out and play the best way I can.

“Obviously I’m not going to be perfect. I’m not going to make every shot. But I just try to lock in on the job at hand.”

After leading by as many as 16, the Lakers found themselves battling the league’s worst team down the stretch to avoid a fourth consecutive loss.

Houston forward KJ Martin scored on a dunk off of a turnover to trim the lead to 119-116 with 5:06 left. James was then fouled on a layup and made the free throw to push the Lakers ahead 122-116.

The Rockets didn’t stop coming at the Lakers. They cut the lead to 131-129 with less than two minutes left but Westbrook dunked off an assist from James for a 133-129 lead. After Eric Gordon’s driving layup, James made a 17-footer for a 135-131 advantage with 50 seconds left. It was as close as the Rockets would get.

“Even when they made their runs, we withstood those,” James said. “We were up 14 at one point in the third and I think they cut it all the way down to three to start the fourth or something around there.

“We were able to still make enough plays, still get enough stops to give ourselves an opportunity to win the ball game. So, I feel like that was very key.”

The Lakers also withstood a big night from center Alperen Sengun, who led the Rockets with 33 points and 15 rebounds.

The Lakers also turned the ball over just twice, a franchise-record low.

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“Obviously, the guys, we did a great job,” Ham said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about in terms of us being more deliberate offensively, what we want to do and what we want to get into. The key element in the midst of all of that is taking care of the ball.”

The Lakers put distance between themselves and the Rockets in the second quarter, using a 12-2 run to take a 49-37 lead. But the Rockets weren’t ready to go home, and they quickly closed the gap to three points (56-53) on a tip-in by Sengun with 5:02 left in the half.

The Lakers again pulled away as James became more involved in the offense. He scored 18 points in the first half to give the Lakers a 73-61 lead heading into halftime and showed no ill effects while playing in back-to-back games despite the sore left ankle that has dogged him for weeks.

The young Rockets team was no match for James and Co. as the Lakers shot 54% from the field and 44.4% from behind the arc in the first half.

“They’re a fun young team to watch,” Ham said. “You definitely have to be on your P’s and Q’s when you step out there to go against them. They’ve had some big wins against some really good teams this year. We have our work cut out for us. We have to go out there and make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of trying to get a W.”

ODDS AND ENDS

Michael Jordan is the only NBA player who has more 40-point games after turning 35 than James – Jordan had 12, and James has eight. … Kendrick Nunn had 15 points for the Lakers, who have won six of nine overall despite their injury issues. Wenyen Gabriel had 14 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 2:41 to play. … USC product Kevin Porter Jr. (bruised left foot) missed his third straight game for Houston.

LeBron dropped a season-high in the Lakers W.

48 points
8 rebounds
9 assists
5 threes

pic.twitter.com/E6oZ1S5wtt

— NBA (@NBA) January 17, 2023

“It made me feel extremely old when Jr. told me that… I just feel extremely blessed to be able to play this game and touch multiple generations.” @KingJames on his timeline and stamp on the NBA. pic.twitter.com/3s1JtCyrMB

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 17, 2023

“I think it’s historic on a lot of different levels. For him to be at this point of his career and still be able to produce at the level in which he’s producing.” Darvin Ham on @KingJames. pic.twitter.com/7zn5hBBCER

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 17, 2023

.@russwest44 on the #Lakers execution down the stretch, his conversation with the coaches at halftime and last night’s officiating. pic.twitter.com/roT8yntmO4

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 17, 2023

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