On Sunday night, Julius Randle was the best player on a court that featured LeBron James.
Randle led the Los Angeles Lakers in a 127-113 win over James' Cleveland Cavaliers with a national audience watching. James has been heavily rumored to be a top free agent target for LA, and the buildup to the game featured a fan putting up billboards around town to recruit the 33-year-old. At STAPLES Center on Sunday, one courtside fan even turned up with a custom Lakers' jersey with "James" written on the back.
While James finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on the night, Randle had a career night and was the best player on the night for either team, which included James. Randle scored a career-high with 36 points on 14-18 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds, seven assists, one steal and two blocks.
"He was really good tonight," Lakers coach Luke Walton said about Randle after the game, sharing a small joke he told the forward afterwards. "I told him it was nice having him back. I missed him for the last two games. But, he was pretty special, showed a lot of what he can do. The crazy thing is, I think he can still be better. He had some lapses on defense, where he had a hand down. I told him, I said, 'You are so gifted that if you want to do multiple things on every possession, you can.'"
Walton concluded, "He was unbelievable tonight and still has room for improvement."
Isaiah Thomas, who was facing the team that traded him earlier in the season, also had a standout performance off the bench with 20 points, nine assists and five rebounds.
After the game, Thomas insisted that his tumultuous tenure in Cleveland had not served as extra motivation, but the backup point guard had one of his best performances since joining the purple and gold.
"He was great tonight," Walton said about Thomas after the game. "The thing about Isaiah that's so good for our team is everything that we're yelling at the players from the bench about, he’s actually on the court telling them the same things, as far as getting them to the right sports. Some of those passes he was getting to Julius on Julius' role, that's what Julius needs to feel."
Walton added, "It's really nice having him out there as far as keeping us structured and organized with what we are trying to do."
Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, who joined Cleveland in the trade for Thomas and Channing Frye, also met the team that drafted them for the first time. Clarkson only made one of eight shots on the night and finished with four points and four assists in 16 minutes on the court. Nance, meanwhile, contributed 16 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes as a starter.
"It was weird, but it was fun," Randle said about playing against Nance and Clarkson. "Took me back to the practice days, just talking trash and going at each other. So, it was fun."
"It was cool," Clarkson said about facing his former team. "I definitely wanted to win, but they played well tonight. It was a fun game to play."
In terms of game flow, the Lakers and Cavs played relatively evenly for the first half, with LA leading by five points at the intermission. In the third quarter, though, the Lakers looked to Randle and found separation. The bruising forward scored 10 points and grabbed seven points in the period, and the Lakers outscored the Cavs 33-22 over those crucial 12 minutes to carry a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter.
The final 12 minutes featured the Cavs never got closer than a 14-point difference, while the Lakers led by as many as 22 points over the final 12 minutes.
While James may have grabbed the attention in the lead-up to the game, Randle stole the spotlight and had fans talking about how the Lakers' current power forward would potentially look next to James.
It may have been James' weekend, but Sunday was Randle's night.
Notes: Lonzo Ball struggled with his shot and only made two of 11 attempts, including only 1-6 from three. The rookie did record seven assists, three rebounds and a steal with zero turnovers on the night. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued his strong play and made four of his eight three-point shots for 20 pints and six rebounds on the night. Kyle Kuzma added a double-double to the starting lineup with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes. Rounding out the Lakers' starters, Brook Lopez scored 22 points on 10-18 shooting, which meant he scored 20-plus points for the third straight game, while shooting 55 percent or better from the field in each outing.