Daily News, Los Angeles
Feb. 2—LeBron James misses the days when chopping up with a courtside fan was a harmless pastime.
He was drawn into one such interaction on Monday night, which resulted in four attendees at State Farm Arena being ejected from the arena. The television broadcast captured images of one of the fans pulling down her mask to shout at James. Juliana Carlos then created a social media brouhaha when she took to Instagram to rail against him.
All things considered, James would still rather have fans than not.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy fans are back in the building,” he said after recording 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the Lakers’ 107-99 win. “I miss that interaction. I need that interaction. We as players need that interaction.”
It was a strange episode in the fourth quarter that by James’ own description shouldn’t have warranted the fans getting kicked out. The Hawks have recently allowed about 1,700 fans in their arena for home games (Monday’s announced attendance was 1,341), and while most teams have not brought in courtside fans beyond team officials, the Hawks appear to be one of the few exceptions.
James said he and a man, identified as Juliana Carlos’ husband, Chris Carlos, exchanged words courtside — “He said his piece, I said my piece” — and thought it would be left at that, but then his wife stepped in. Referees got involved and stopped the game.
“We could’ve moved on,” James said. “But I think it was so close to the official, I think the official heard it as well, what he had said, and it kind of got blown out of proportion. It’s just like sometimes out on the floor when two guys get into a scuffle or get into a little jostling, the refs kind of come in and try to break it up really fast and it looks like it’s bigger than what it really is.”
James did say that Chris Carlos went “out of bounds” with whatever he directed at him.
What many viewers noticed, however, was that Juliana Carlos had pulled her mask below her mouth as the shouting match unfolded. In the rigorous protocols set by the NBA, it seemed an unfortunate episode — but James said he and his teammates weren’t close enough to the scene to feel truly at risk.
The NBA has tightened restrictions recently, canceling a Monday game between Detroit and Denver because of one inconclusive test among the Pistons. While Lakers coach Frank Vogel didn’t have a close up to the exchange, he expressed concern with how the fans conducted themselves.
“It certainly exposed something with regard to having fans in the pandemic,” he said. “You obviously can’t have fans taking their masks down and shouting at our players with the virus out there during these times.”
LAKERS EXCITED TO SEE RONDO AGAIN
As Anthony Davis dribbled up the court, he felt a familiar shadow picking at his dribbling hand.
In just under 15 minutes, Rajon Rondo notched three steals, a constant hassle to the Lakers’ ball-handlers on Monday. In other words: It was the Rondo they all remembered as a teammate, just on the other side.
It was the first time the Lakers have faced Rondo since he signed with the Hawks in the offseason, fresh off his second championship run. So far he’s averaged just 4 points and 3.9 assists, but the Lakers know as well as anyone that his true value can exceed his regular-season statistics. Vogel said the 34-year-old point guard is “definitely missed” this season.
“Obviously he was so vital to our championship run last year, really orchestrating the game on both sides of the ball with his ability to switch from man to zone,” Vogel said. “We liked to joke sometimes that he had our guys in ‘Mone’ defense, some guys were in man cover, some guys were in zone. Nobody really knew what we were playing but the (opposing) offense didn’t either, so it worked for us.”
As the Lakers expected, Rondo spent much of the game shouting out the Lakers’ plays and sets — the heady veteran made it a habit when he played in Los Angeles for two seasons.
But Davis also pointed out that the Lakers had some tricks ready for Rondo, too: After a timeout, they ran a play that resulted in a foul against the Hawks, and Davis took the time to talk smack to his friend and former teammate.
“I was talking trash to him,” he said, “telling him he hasn’t seen that one yet.”
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