April 24, 2024

The stage was set for another moment — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on his 39th birthday squaring off with a surging Minnesota team led by one of the young stars in the league, Anthony Edwards.

And if that wasn’t enough drama, an illness kept LeBron James from attending morning shoot-around and threatened his status for Saturday night’s game.

But when it came time for the Lakers to play, the game representing one of the final challenges before the team flips the calendar and gets some time at home, James was on the court, ready to go.

He defied age by flying to the rim, slamming home his signature, violent one-handed dunk. He caught an alley-oop pass for a dunk and sped past the Minnesota defense for another slam.

And with the Lakers needing a miracle in the final seconds, James sprinted down the court and pulled up from 23 feet and 9 inches, swishing the shot. But James’ foot appeared to officials to be on the line, the Lakers star coming up a toenail short from another iconic moment.

The Lakers had one last chance after Edwards split on free throws, down two with 1.4 seconds left, but James couldn’t get the game-tying attempt off, falling 108-106.

He finished with 26 points, just the 11th player in league history to score 25 or more after turning 39.

Edwards was everything advertised, the former No. 1 pick blossoming as Minnesota’s leader. He smirked at Cam Reddish after hitting one three, got Anthony Davis to bite on two fakes before a mid-range jumper and stared at the Lakers bench after hitting another triple in the fourth.

And when James tried to answer after that last three, the ball bounced off the rim and perched on top of the basket, the 17th missed three for the Lakers on the night against just six makes.

It was Davis, not James, though who set the tone early. Being defended by perennial defensive player of the year candidate Rudy Gobert, Davis dominated every aspect of the game.

He had nine points and five rebounds in the game’s first five minutes and finished the first quarter with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Davis was up to 20 and 10 by halftime and continued to affect the offense throughout the night.

That was good news for the Lakers — everyone else, minus James, struggled.

Reddish, playing through a groin injury, and Jarred Vanderbilt couldn’t hit open corner threes. Neither could Austin Reaves, who couldn’t get any aspect of his offensive game going, missing nine of his 11 shots (while banking in a half-court heave just after the buzzer in the third). And D’Angelo Russell was quiet in his 20 minutes before leaving the game with a tailbone contusion he suffered drawing a charge at the end of the third.

That play, like so many for Minnesota, the West’s top team, was a head-scratcher — a slew of turnovers and fouls keeping the Lakers in the game into the fourth.

But the 19 turnovers were offset by a 15-point advantage behind the three-point line, a margin that could’ve been closer had James been an eyelash farther from the rim.

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