The ball bounced off the Lakers’ court as LeBron James trailed, a 39-year-old, 21-year veteran casually gliding into a highlight lob fit for an All-Star Game.
Then later Sunday night, as the Lakers kept adding to their lead, James hit the paint and contorted his body around a defender for a left-handed slam — that ended with a backward summersault after he hit the Crypto.com Arena court.
The precursor to both of those plays was a pass from D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers’ maligned point guard who has resided inside trade machines all over the internet over the last month.
Russell orchestrated so many of the Lakers’ big moments in their 134-110 win against the lousy Portland Trail Blazers, his recent heater coinciding with the dawn of trade season.
Sunday, he had 34 points and eight assists, perfectly matching his deliberate pace with urgency and force in his attention.
He’s averaging 27.2 points since returning to the starting lineup five games ago, making nearly 54% of his three-point shots — his best stretch of basketball this season.
He was far from alone Sunday, the Lakers registering a full game of intentions after walking out on the second half in an embarrassing loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday,
James had 28 points, Austin Reaves had 15 and Anthony Davis had 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers.
Malcolm Brogdon, a player the Lakers have had discussions about in the build to the trade deadline next month, led Portland with 23 points.
Russell would, certainly, be a part of those trade discussions — his contract an almost necessary piece in most moves of significance.
But on a night like Sunday, when everything was humming, there wasn’t much thought of upgrading.
And with the game about to put all the way into the refrigerator, Russell found himself on the break, again, with James on the other wing. With Brogdon defending, Russell faked a behind-the-back pass off the dribble, pushing the ball back to his right hand instead for a layup — giving himself the starring role in the highlight.
The Lakers will face the Clippers on Tuesday as the visitors.