AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Lakers acquired two veteran NBA big men in the offseason, and they both got wild cheers for their outstanding performances Sunday night in a runaway win over Charlotte.
That’s no surprise in the case of Anthony Davis, who gave Lakers fans their best look yet at his world-class talent.
In the case of Dwight Howard, it’s a minor miracle how quickly he has landed in Los Angeles’ good graces again.
Davis had 29 points and 14 rebounds, and Howard added 16 points, 10 boards and four blocked shots in a 120-101 victory over the Hornets.
LeBron James had 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds for the Lakers, who took control of their second straight victory with an 18-2 rally starting late in the third quarter. But he was most excited afterward about their strong defensive performance and the potential for growth encapsulated in Davis and Howard.
“That’s the luxury of our depth,” James said.
Davis showed off the breadth of his skills during a 25-point first half, scoring 16 points in the first quarter while dominating on both ends. After a sometimes-tentative start to his Lakers career, he was aggressive from the start against Charlotte’s young frontcourt.
“I shot the ball poorly the first two games, and I was just trying to get into a rhythm,” Davis said. “When I get easy looks, it kind of gets me going.”
When Davis took a step back after halftime, James and Howard took charge. That’s what the Lakers’ depth allows them to do in difficult matchups, even with these partnerships and connections still new in the third game of the season.
While James orchestrated the offense, Howard put in an impressive all-around performance that drew multiple ovations from the same fan base that booed him relentlessly for the past six years after he left the Lakers in free agency. Now back as a reserve center, Howard has already turned the tide with his dunks, defense and overall effort in the team’s first two home games.
When Howard blocked a shot into the crowd and did a Mutombo finger-wag while flashing his famous smile, Lakers fans jumped from their seats to cheer.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything but doing whatever I can to help the team win, keep the crowd energized,” Howard said. “Great things happen when you do that. I’m just going to keep doing whatever it takes and enjoy every moment on the court.”
Miles Bridges scored 23 points, while Cody Zeller and Terry Rozier added 19 apiece for the Hornets in the opener of a four-game road trip. Charlotte’s 1-for-12 shooting on 3-pointers in the third quarter allowed the Lakers to break it open.
“We were trying to get out in front of the situation, but they’re a championship-level team,” Bridges said. “It was a close game. They’ve got veterans. They did what they did, and we showed our youth a little bit.”
Bridges scored 15 points in the first half, but Los Angeles held the Hornets to 39 points after halftime.
“I thought we competed tonight,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said. “I thought we were great. … (Bridges) really stood out to me tonight (with) his maturity, the way he’s grown, the presence he has, the way he attacked them. He took on that challenge of guarding LeBron, and I thought he was great tonight.”