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Gordon: Ever the showman, LeBron James personifies Las Vegas

It wasn’t that LeBron James destroyed the New Orleans Pelicans. It was how: with showmanship apropros of the Las Vegas Strip.

His two-day residency ends Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

He’s still — at 38, more than 20 years after his NBA debut — as good a show as there is in Sin City.

James didn’t play, he performed for the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night in the NBA’s In-Season Tournament semifinals — blending his singular all-time greatness with a command of the crowd he palmed as effortlessly as that orange, leather ball.

No wonder he wants to own an NBA franchise in Las Vegas, where he had 30 points, eight assists and five rebounds Thursday in 23 seemingly effortless minutes.

It’s a city he personifies in personality and play.

“LeBron James is in his prime still,” said Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, tasked with strategizing against him Saturday in the championship game.

“He’s the only player in NBA history who has been the youngest player in the league and the oldest player in the league, both. That speaks to obviously an amazing run of longevity and, in his case, greatness.”

Three weeks shy of his 39th birthday, James still competes like he’s 29: as the smartest, strongest, fastest, freshest — and usually still the best — player in every single game he plays.

The youthful Pelicans weren’t at all a match for the sage old man, playing in their 133-89 loss like a vacationing bunch that stayed out too late the night before.

Not to worry, they’re not alone in succumbing to James and the Lakers he leads.

‘He’s not getting tired’

In his 21st season, James is stunningly supplying 25 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game for a veteran, contending Lakers team standing fourth in the Western Conference. His field-goal percentage of 55.3 is his best since the 2013-14 season, when he was 29 and actually in his prime as a member of the Miami Heat shooting 56.7 percent.

He’s also making 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers, a career high buoyed by a 4-for-4 outing Thursday that included in the second quarter three straight triples — putting into a frenzy his bench and the sellout crowd, which periodically chanted “MVP.”

“Honestly, he can shoot it better. He’s faster. He’s more athletic,” teammate D’Angelo Russell said. “He’s not getting tired. I just don’t understand. But it’s impressive to watch from the outside looking in.”

With each bucket James scored, each bulldoze to the basket, each stop of supposed Pelicans standout Zion Williamson, came subtle — and sometimes not-so-subtle — bravado befitting of the setting.

The points at his arms for the ice in his veins. The twirling of his fingers near his temples as New Orleans called timeout.

The posturing.

The flexing.

The machismo.

The swagger.

“I think at the end of the day, he is the gold standard of basketball players. Everybody obviously strives to be that,” said Pacers superstar point guard Tyrese Haliburton, a showman himself in a victory Thursday over the Milwaukee Bucks.

A championship clash

Haliburton, conceding Friday that James was once his favorite player, is well on his way in his own regard.

A 23-year-old wunderkind, speedy, skilled and cerebral — Indiana’s best passer since Peyton Manning — Haliburton in Las Vegas is solidifying his own superstar status, delivering 27 points, 15 assists and nary a turnover to Milwaukee in a 128-119 semifinal victory.

He’s averaging 26.9 points and 12.1 assists this season while shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range for the upstart (and up-tempo) Pacers, who have a chance Saturday to steal the spotlight with a victory over James and the Lakers.

Don’t expect him to willfully comply with the inaugural In-Season Tournament championship hanging in the balance.

“To be able to compete against (James) in a championship is kind of like a storybook a little bit, and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Haliburton said. “But that’s the great part about being in the NBA is getting to compete against your idols on a nightly basis. I really look forward to that.”

Viva the NBA in Las Vegas.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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