|Lakers go forward without Rondo to face Magic|
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are on their best roll of the young season and for next four to five weeks they will try to keep it going while Rajon Rondo is sidelined.
With Rondo sidelined because of a broken hand, the Lakers visit the Orlando Magic in the opener of a three-game road trip Saturday night.
Los Angeles (8-6) enters the start of a trip that will culminate in James returning to Cleveland on Wednesday on a season-high four-game win streak. The Lakers kept the streak going when James passed Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on the NBA's career scoring list by scoring 44 points in a 126-117 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
While James was producing his first 40-point game as a Laker, Rondo was injured in the fourth quarter on Wednesday and underwent surgery on the third metacarpal of his right hand a day later.
"It's tough," James said. "He's one of our captains, one of our leaders. I know he'll get right to it with his rehab, but it's next man up."
Unlike earlier in Rondo's career when he was the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, he has only started two of the 11 games he appeared in. Rondo was playing about 25 minutes per game and his 6.5 assists on the team are second only to James, who is averaging 7.2 along with his 27.6 points.
Lonzo Ball has split point guard responsibilities with Rondo and is likely to see an increase in his 26.1 minutes per game. James, Lance Stephenson and Brandon Ingram, who started 12 games at point guard, are also options to play point guard when Ball is not on the floor.
"We have to shake it off," Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters at practice. "Of course you're always aware of the reality of what's going on. We don't act like it didn't happen, but we acknowledge it and we move forward.
James is averaging 29.7 points during the win streak and is shooting 55.1 percent (43 of 78) during the last four games.
On Wednesday, he passed Chamberlain on a 3-point play with 3:55 remaining to end the game with 31,425 career points while falling just shy of his 75th career triple-double and posting his 63rd career 40-point game.
So far, James has jumped from seventh to fifth on the career scoring list. He is 867 points behind Michael Jordan for fourth place.
James owns two career 40-point games against Orlando in 2009 with Cleveland and 2011 with Miami. He never scored more than 29 points against Orlando in his second stint with the Cavaliers but won 12 of 14 meetings.
"He's incredible, first of all, because of his size," Steve Clifford told reporters at practice Friday. "But then it's his skill level, it's his basketball IQ, decision-making and competitive spirit. It's all just so extraordinary and he's another one of those guys who gets better every year."
Orlando will try to contain James while continuing its improvement in recent weeks.
Since a 120-95 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 2, the Magic are 5-2 in their last seven games.
Overall, Orlando owns a few notable wins such as its 93-90 victory on Oct. 22 in Boston and a 117-110 win on Nov. 4 at San Antonio, but Wednesday might have been the most impressive victory so far.
In Jimmy Butler's debut for the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, the Magic scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, did not allow a basket for the final 3 1/2 minutes and rallied for a 111-106 win.
Terrence Ross hit the winning 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left. He is averaging 19.3 points in his last three games.
Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 30 points and Aaron Gordon added 17 to continue his run of late. Since scoring four points against the Clippers, he is averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 53.3 percent.
Overall, Orlando is averaging 109.6 points on 47.9 percent shooting in its last seven games. During the 2-6 start, the Magic averaged 99.9 points on 41.4 percent shooting.
"We've developed a sustainable way of playing," Gordon told reporters at practice Friday. "Last year, we were reliant on shot-making alone. When we weren't making shots, we weren't winning. This year, it's more about holding everybody accountable to the way that we need to play."
Orlando is 9-1 in the last 10 home meetings with the Lakers.