The King still reigns supreme.
In the first meeting between rookie phenom Zion Williamson and LeBron James, the latter made sure everyone knew the league was still his with a virtuoso performance to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 118-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
With the win, the Lakers move to 44-12 on the season while the Pelicans remain in the hunt for the eighth seed, 3.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies at 25-33.
Here are the key takeaways from today's game
LeBron vs. Zion lives up to the hype
The battle of the present vs. the future brought out one of the best games of the season from LeBron James, who poured in a season-high 40 points, eight rebounds, and six assists.
In the process, James became the first player to score 40 points in his 17th season or later since Kobe Bryant in 2013, bringing up his 65th career 40-point game.
The Lakers are now 18-0 this season when LeBron scores 30+ points.
LeBron James is the first player with a 40-point game in his 17th season (or later) since Kobe Bryant in 2013. pic.twitter.com/rJfwlSUBSM- StatMuse (@statmuse) February 26, 2020
In just his 13th regular season appearance, Williamson has now scored at least 20 points for the ninth-straight game, recording 29 points and six rebounds, doing most of his work at the free-throw line (13-of-19).
He joined Carmelo Anthony as the only players 20 years or younger to record nine-straight 20-plus point games.
Williamson managed just one field goal in the fourth quarter, but created highlight after highlight throughout the game with a series of high-flying alley-oops.
ZO AND ZION PUTTING ON A SHOW pic.twitter.com/wCOd2u2ELh- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 26, 2020
"The kid's special," James said of Williamson post-game. "We all know that. Every game is going to be another opportunity for him to get better and a learning experience for him.
"But in today's game, when it's a track race, it's a fast pace, it's high tempo; it fits his game perfectly. And the way that they play fits his game perfectly ... but the kid is special, man.
"They've got a good one in him."
"The kid is special." 🌟@KingJames talks with @ChrisBHaynes on his first matchup against Zion. pic.twitter.com/vXxlIfpw9v- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 26, 2020
On a night where Anthony Davis struggled offensively, going 6-of-21 from the field for his 21 points and 14 rebounds, LeBron's performance was exactly what the Lakers needed against a plucky Pelicans squad.
Pelicans' rally falls short
The Lakers are now 38-0 this season when leading entering the fourth quarter, but it wasn't so straight-forward after the Pelicans mounted a rousing comeback in the third.
The Lakers led by as many as 13 points shortly after halftime before the Pelicans reeled off a 19-4 run, powered by Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors to take an 82-81 lead with 3:26 remaining.
Jrue finds Favors for the finish to cap off a 19-4 Pelicans run to take the lead! pic.twitter.com/9R2RYCVZ9L- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 26, 2020
Ingram scored 10 points in the period on 4-of-5 shooting, knocking down tough shot after tough shot. He finished with a team-high 34 points on the night, while fellow former Laker Lonzo Ball recorded 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
With the Pelicans gaining momentum, LeBron re-entered the game with 2:12 to go in the quarter, burying a triple shortly after to tie it back up at 86-86 before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's finger roll put them in front 88-86 entering the fourth.
James scored 16 of his 40 points in the third.
From there the Lakers turned up the heat on defence, suffocating Williamson inside as they held the Pelicans to just 23 points in the final frame on 4-of-19 shooting, while forcing six of their 19 turnovers in the final 12 minutes.
The Alex CaruShow
When Alex Caruso is on the floor, good things happen for the Lakers.
As each game goes by, the 25-year-old continues to tighten his grip on those backup point guard minutes, with his energy, hustle and playmaking proving to be infectious for his teammates.
Against the Pelicans, he recorded a team-high eight assists to go with eight points, three rebounds, two steals and a highlight-reel rejection on former Laker Lonzo Ball.
Alex Caruso comes across for the strong rejection! 💪@PelicansNBA 99@Lakers 103- NBA (@NBA) February 26, 2020
7:15 left on @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/2gaj37X8x5
Caruso's fourth quarter block was just one of 12 for the Lakers, with Anthony Davis leading the line with six blocks of his own.
The Lakers will look to extend their win streak to seven games when they take on the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, while the Pelicans will look to bounce back when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
We won't have to wait long for the second installment of LeBron vs. Zion, with the two teams squaring off gain on Sunday.
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