LeBron James said his aim was be laser-sharp as he led the Los Angeles Lakers to a battling overtime road win against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
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James wasn't about to coast into the All-Star break, and neither was Anthony Davis. James posted 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds for this 12th triple-double of the season while Davis scored a team-high 33, including seven of his team's nine points in the decisive extra session.
"I could tell they were locked in pregame. LeBron had his jersey with like 80 minutes to go before the game," guard Alex Caruso said after the Los Angeles Lakers fought their way to a 120-116 triumph that took the Western Conference leaders into the All-Star break with a 41-12 record and a four-game lead over second-place Denver.
"I was trying to be laser-sharp, laser-focused as I could," James said. "I know the break was coming, but I wasn't going to take this opportunity for granted. I wanted to play extremely well tonight for our ball club and I wanted us to play extremely well going into the break on a high note. And our team, we responded very well."
The Nuggets were the hottest team in the league, having won six of seven, including victories at Milwaukee and Utah in which injuries left them undermanned.
So, James saw this game as playoff prep.
"Every opportunity we get to play in a close game against a tough opponent, it's a learning experience for all of us," he said. "It prepares us for a postseason game where it's going to be back and forth, back and forth. I thought tonight was a playoff atmosphere for both teams, being No 1 and No 2 in the Western Conference, jockeying for position.
"We were just trying to make plays - whatever it takes. And AD was there knocking down big threes and getting a block and getting some stops, the jump ball, as well. It was big-time."
In addition to his 33 points, Davis tied up Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic for a key jump ball late in regulation when the officials had to waive off the basket by Denver's big man after he muscled the ball away from Davis and into the basket.
Jokic has 22 points and 11 rebounds for Denver, who saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
Dwight Howard added 14 points for the Lakers, who improved their NBA-best road record to 23-5.
Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 33 points, but Jokic was in foul trouble late and made some crucial blunders in the extra period, including a turnover on a bad pass with 19 seconds left after he passed up an open three-pointer with Denver down 119-116.
"It was a close game. We just didn't execute in the last minutes," Jokic said. "I made a lot of terrible mistakes. Every decision was bad. So, I need to be better with my decision-making. I think I just need to look to shoot a little bit more."
Despite the disappointment, the Nuggets are pleased to take a 38-17 record into the All-Star break.
"Of course nobody wants to lose, but we lost to an amazing team," said Jokic, who was battered after 37 minutes of having James, Davis and Dwight Howard come at him in waves.
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"They are one of the best teams in the NBA right now. They are playing at a really high level. It's not a bad thing to lose against them, especially because it's overtime and we put up a fight.
"We are still second," Jokic said, "so I like it."