LeBron James was alone in the Lakers’ locker room before Saturday night’s game, rapping along to every word of his New York-themed playlist.
He was readying to play in Madison Square Garden, a place he referred to as “the Mecca of basketball” earlier in the day.
“It’s one of the most prestigious arenas to play in in the history of sports,” he said.
There was nothing ambiguous about it — James was going to put on a show.
But before the Lakers’ 113-105 win, James had a chance to settle some other things — like his cryptic social media post and his long-term plans with the team.
He offered no explanation for posting an hourglass emoji on social media after the Lakers lost in Houston earlier in the week. He gave no indication about his future and whether he’d exercise his player option for next season to remain with the team.
He did say he thought the Lakers would be OK.
Saturday they were better than that, with James setting the tone and delivering the punctuation.
In the first quarter, James slammed home a bounce lob from D’Angelo Russell on a 2-on-0 break to bring the Garden to its feet. The Lakers bench erupted in applause in the fourth when he forced the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson into a miss at the end of a lengthy possession.
And after James’ fallaway jumper iced the game in the final two minutes, the crowd could do nothing but murmur as the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak was about to expire.
James had 24 points, Austin Reaves scored 22 and Russell had 16. Anthony Davis scored only 12 but grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Saturday’s game was the first for the Lakers since Thursday’s big win in Boston without James and Davis, and they played this one without forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who’s likely out for the season after injuring a foot against the Celtics, according to people with knowledge of the injury not authorized to speak publicly. Coach Darvin Ham, who had been close to inserting Vanderbilt into the starting lineup for Taurean Prince, instead went with Rui Hachimura for Prince.
Prince, who had started all 47 games he appeared in, scored 16 points in 33 minutes off the bench.
Brunson scored 36 for the Knicks, who were without two stars in OG Anunoby and Julius Randle.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.