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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

LeBron James doesn't disappoint as Garden crowd enjoys one of NBA's all-time greats

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers drives

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the hoop against Damyean Dotson of the Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Great players may not want to play at Madison Square Garden 41 times a year, but they sure like to pop by for a visit.

“Thing I love most about playing in NYC...playing in the Garden!” LeBron James tweeted 12 hours before finishing with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in the Lakers’ 100-92 win over the Knicks on Wednesday night.

On Thursday night, 30 minutes before the Lakers take on the Nets at Barclays Center, we will find out whether James edges out Luka Doncic as the top vote-getter in the Western Conference when the All-Star captains and reserves are revealed. With what he’s done this season with the Lakers, there’s little doubt that he deserves it.

There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing one of the league’s all-time great players at the top of his game. And surprisingly, at the age of 35, that is where we find James.

The Lakers are running away with the West. James and his ability to both score and get everyone involved in the game is a big reason why. Not only is James putting up big-time scoring numbers on a nightly basis, he leads the league in assists (he entered Wednesday averaging 11 assists per game).

Anthony Davis has proved to be the perfect superstar teammate to pair with James. The two seem to have instant chemistry, one that has spilled over to the rest of the team. After a brutal year, the Lakers are back. And they are having fun.

“Our chemistry on the court is always great because of how much we get along off the court,” James said after the game.

Credit Lakers coach Frank Vogel with the decision to make one of the league’s all-time great scorers into a point guard.

“I always liked the idea, but I wanted to see what our team was going to look like,” Vogel said. “When we got Anthony Davis I felt like it kind of made sense. LeBron has basically played that position his whole life. It’s just a matter of not having another true point guard out there while he’s doing it. We wanted to see how it looked.

Not only is it quite a contrast to the struggle James had last season when he missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, but it might also be James’ best season since he was in Miami with the Big 3.

One knock on the Lakers heading into the season was whether they would be able to survive an extended absence of either Davis or James during the course of a long season. In the seven games that Davis has missed, the Lakers are 5-2.

James showed that he has the versatility to score when the Lakers need him to score. James, who entered Wednesday’s game averaging 25.2 points, scored 31.5 in the seven games without Davis.

Vogel isn’t surprised that James is having the kind of year he’s having with this group, using all aspects of his game.

“I think this team is different than any team he’s had,” Vogel said of James. “A quarterback has to have wide receivers. You’ve got to catch and finish.”

The Garden took advantage of the fact they had one of the all-time greats on the court Wednesday. Rapper J Cole was courtside and gave James a big hug before the game. Phil Collins, Vanessa Hudgens and Howard Stern were in the crowd as well.

In the final minutes of the game, the Garden fans chanted “M-V-P” when James went to the free-throw line.

“It’s probably my favorite arena in the world play as a visitor,” said James, who hit eight of his first nine shots last night. “Come here understanding the history and it being the mecca of basketball. Being here in the bright lights. Absolutely special.

There’s nothing like it when a great player comes to the Garden, no matter whose uniform he is wearing.

New York Sports