Two NBA heavyweights went head-to-head for the first time on Wednesday, veteran LeBron James and prodigy Zion Williamson facing off at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Experience came to the fore in the tight contest, with James scoring a season-high 40 points in the Lakers’ win, trumping Williamson’s 29.
The 35-year-old James also became the first NBA player in their 17th season to muster a 40-point game since Kobe Bryant in 2013.
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Williamson — the 2019 NBA draft No. 1 pick — was only three years old when James made his NBA debut in 2003.
Although the New Orleans Pelicans rookie has impressed in his debut season — averaging 23.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game — James proved who was the real MVP.
LeBron James averages 25.5 points per game this seasonSource:AFP
While the hype around Williamson is warranted, you can’t ignore the seasoned professionalism of a 16-time NBA All-Star.
James managed eight rebounds while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over New Orleans. Williamson had six rebounds in his first showdown with James and Anthony Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centrepiece.
James sees greatness in his teenage opponent, calling Williamson an “exceptional” talent.
“He’s playing exceptional basketball,” James said.
“I think his game is going to get better and better, just having that experience. I think today’s game is the perfect fit for his game.
“The high pace, the way they play, it fits his game. … It works perfectly, and our game is so many possessions now, so much space, it’s perfect for his game, so he’s doing exceptionally well with that.”
I thought there was no way Zion Williamson returning this late in the season he could possibly build a big enough case to overtake Ja Morant as frontrunner for Rookie Of The Year… I feel as though I may have been wrong after seeing Zion’s first 12 games of his NBA career
It's been impressive to see how patient Zion Williamson is on the court – he rarely if ever takes a bad shot, he rarely forces a drive that's not there. Almost as impressive was his patience after LAL game, when he answered six separate questions about playing vs. LeBron
Williamson was injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings with the Lakers this season, but his delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped.
In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, becoming the youngest NBA player ever to achieve the feat.
“It was a great experience,” Williamson said of James.
“He’s an incredible player. His resume speaks for himself … He handled business. He came out here and did what he had to do to help his team get the win.”
Davis had 21 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots while improving to 3-0 against New Orleans.
The Lakers still haven’t lost to the team with which they made the blockbuster summer trade that has appeared to benefit both sides.
Zion Williamson was three years old when LeBron James made his NBA debutSource:AP
“He’s a great player,” Davis said of Williamson.
“He’s got a quick first step. Very explosive. He’s going to continue to get better and better as he goes on.”
The Lakers remain in top spot of the Western Conference, four wins clear of the Denver Nuggets. They next face the Golden State Warriors in an away fixture on Friday.
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