PORTLAND, OREGON – LeBron James opened with two thunderous dunks and had 26 points and 12 rebounds in his first game with the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Portland Trail Blazers prevailed 128-119 Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
Damian Lillard had 28 points and Nik Stauskas came off the bench to score 24 for Portland, which won its 18th straight home opener to extend an NBA record.
It was the Blazers’ 16th straight victory over the Lakers.
The opening festivities were tempered by the death this week of Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen. A “Rip City” baseball cap rested in Allen’s courtside seat with a single rose.
The enigmatic co-founder of Microsoft died Monday in Seattle from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65. There was moment of silence before the game and tributes to Allen throughout the night.
On the court, the focus was all on James. His monster dunks to start stunned the Moda Center crowd while Nike co-founder Phil Knight looked on from courtside seats.
James signed a four-year, $153 million deal with the Lakers as a free agent in the offseason after winning three NBA championship rings and taking his team — Miami and Cleveland — to the NBA Finals in each of the last eight seasons.
The four-time league MVP joined a revamped group that includes veterans Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley, as well as a young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and rookie Moe Wagner.
While the Lakers made big changes in the offseason, the Trail Blazers returned all five starters from a team that finished third in the Western Conference last season — including the nucleus of Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.
James’ putback gave Los Angeles an early 25-15 lead. He played just under nine minutes in the opening quarter and led all scorers with 13 points.
Portland closed the gap and pulled in front 46-40 on Stauskas’ 3-pointer. Stauskas, who signed with the Blazers as a free agent this past summer, led all Blazers with 16 points in the opening half. Portland pushed the lead to 11 points at but led just 65-63 at the break.
James had 18 points but collected a third foul with 6:04 left in the half.
Kuzma’s dunk got the Lakers within 79-78 with just more than four minutes left in the third quarter. Hart’s 3-pointer — the Lakers’ first of the game — put Los Angeles up 85-83. The lead was short-lived, but Portland had just a 93-91 advantage going into the final quarter.
Stauskas hit a 3-pointer that put Portland up 107-100 with 7:22 left. After it fell, he turned to the crowd and pounded his chest. McCollum’s 3-pointer with 5:01 left put Portland up 114-104.
Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer with 30.7 seconds left got the Lakers within 124-118, but Stauskas made a pair of free throws and Los Angeles couldn’t catch up.
Sixers 127, Bulls 108
In Philadelphia, Ben Simmons had a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists and Joel Embiid had 30 points and 12 rebounds to lead the 76ers past Chicago.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points in their season opener.
Simmons hit his triple-double with 2:34 left in the third, the 13th of his career and the first Sixer to ever get one in the home opener. Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process!” when Embiid ended the third with free throws.
The curious case of Markelle Fultz continued against the Bulls when one of the more scrutinized players in the NBA managed to steal the spotlight from his more accomplished teammate with simple jumpers.
Fultz had open looks early and 76ers fans exhorted him to “Shoot! Shoot!” each time he touched the ball as the second-year guard tries to overcome his aversion to jumpers.
He found the look he wanted 3 minutes into the second quarter. Fultz dribbled to the foul line and hit an uncontested pull-up jumper, the ball rattling around the rim four times before it plopped through the net for two points.
76ers fans erupted in cheers as they gave him a standing ovation and chanted “Fultz! Fultz! Fultz!”
Yes, a simple jumper from the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 draft in the second game of the season was enough to get a rise out of the fans — and a sigh of relief from Fultz.
Fultz got a similar reaction when he buried a 3-pointer in a preseason game, after not attempting one last season. Fultz suffered from a right shoulder injury, a broken shot and busted confidence in his rookie season.
Fultz drained his first career 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to give the Sixers a 108-88 lead He finished the night with five baskets and scored 12 points.
Heat 113, Wizards 112
In Washington, Kelly Olynyk grabbed the rebound off Dwyane Wade’s errant turnaround jumper and layed in the go-ahead basket with 0.2 seconds left to lift Miami to a ragged victory over the Wizards.
John Wall, who led Washington with 26 points and nine assists and combined with Bradley Beal to score the hosts’ last eight points.