LeBron James led all scorers in the Lakers’ Game 3 victory over the Rockets on Tuesday, finishing with a 36 points on a hot shooting night. He also tacked on seven rebounds and five assists, a typically excellent offense performance from the excellent James.

But it was his defense that stood out on the night.

No one has ever seriously doubted the defensive talent of James, unless they’re paid to espouse hot takes on television.

For how gifted he is at the totality of the game of basketball, however, James has shown over the years that he can dial things back on the defensive end. This is strategic more than anything — when you play as long as James, you need to make choices about where you expend your energy, and how much you put your body through.

James has talked about this explicitly, and while some purists may not like it, it’s allowed him to stay energized late in games, stay healthy, and play a lot of minutes for his teams.

Yet every once in a while, James decides to ramp up the energy defensively. Combine that with his experience and refined timing, and you get what we saw on Tuesday night — when James had four blocks in a quarter.

James may not be as quick as he once was on defense, but he’s making up for that with years upon years of experience, and a timing that’s impossible to get down unless you’ve seen thousands upon thousands of basketball shots.

He’s got that timing, he can still elevate, and it allows him to make up things on defense when he gets run past, or allows him to contest on shots when the Lakers play him in more of a free safety, roaming defensive role.

For the Rockets, who already have to deal with an elite defender in Anthony Davis and a pretty dang good shot-contester (still) in Dwight Howard, it’s a nightmare scenario. If James is playing defense like that and taking away good looks, and still playing at an all-world level offensively, this series looks harder and harder to win.

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