Following a shaky first half, teenager sensation LeBron James showed what he could do in his first formal game against NBA veterans, although the intensity wasn't close to what it'll be when the season begins in three months.
James scored eight of his 28 points in the final five minutes and Carmelo Anthony had 34 points to lead a group of incoming rookies to a 127-123 victory over a star-studded squad of veterans in the 18th annual Magic Johnson charity game at Los Angeles' Staples Center.
"I felt pretty good," said James, who went straight from high school to the NBA as the first pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in last month's draft. "We're just having fun and doing what we love to do -- play basketball.
"No nerves -- the first half, we were just having fun. The second half, we wanted to win the game. It was a charity game."
And win the game the rookies did, despite the presence of such stars as Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics, Baron Davis of the New Orleans Hornets, Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers, Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns and Gary Payton and Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers.
No official statistics were kept. Unofficially, James shot 5-of-15 including 1-of-6 on 3-point shots in the first half and 6-of-10 including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.
The rest of his game was much sounder after intermission as well.
Johnson, one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, was quite impressed with both James and Anthony, who played one season at Syracuse -- leading the Orangemen to the NCAA championship -- before turning pro.
Anthony was the third overall pick in the draft by Denver.
"Unbelievable, silky smooth, understanding of the game," Johnson said of the rookie stars. "That's what I'm really impressed with -- their understanding of the game.
"I didn't know Carmelo could shoot like that with range. LeBron is big and strong. I'm more excited after seeing them today, they're going to be very good in this league. They both have fun, too."
Johnson perhaps saw a modern-day version of himself in the 6-foot-8 James.
"LeBron at the point -- I think he should do it," Johnson said. "He has the passing skills and the knowledge to get it done."
If anyone should know what it takes, it's Johnson.
"He has to get used to playing against quicker guards," Johnson added.
Anthony's reverse left-handed layup with 40 seconds left snapped a 123-all tie, and James put a capper on the game with a flying dunk at the buzzer, drawing one of the loudest reactions from the Staples Center crowd of over 16,000.
"I've been playing against him since he was a sophomore in high school, I already knew he could play," said Quentin Richardson of the Los Angeles Clippers, who led the veterans with 26 points.
"I hope the media doesn't put too much on him, lets him grow," Richardson said. "I'm not sure that's going to happen."
James, 18, said he doesn't believe expectations are too high.
"I've been succeeding at everything I've been doing," he said. "I'm just playing my game, man -- being myself."
James recently played in four summer league games for the Cavaliers, averaging 15.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists against mostly young, inexperienced players. He showed flashes of brilliance at times and inexperience at others.