New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) brings the ball up the court after stealing it from an incredulous Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (Photo by Scott Threlkeld, The Times-Picayune)

Taurean Prince tried to stop it.

When the Los Angeles Lakers inbounded the ball after Herb Jones made a 3-pointer in the second quarter, Jose Alvarado lingered near the baseline. Prince pointed toward Alvarado as he took off in pursuit. His warning was ineffective. 

Alvarado sneaked behind LeBron James and stole the ball from him.

“It’s surprising because he (James) watches film,” Alvarado said. “He is always alert to me when I am on the court. It’s fun. It would have been anybody who dribbled the ball up the court. But LeBron, I can say I (got) one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”

In 21 minutes, Alvarado racked up eight points, four steals and two blocks. The under 6-foot guard’s impact was massive in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 129-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Alvarado, who went undrafted in 2021 before forcing his way onto the Pelicans’ full-time roster, was slowed by a right ankle sprain in the fall. He got hurt in September during an offseason workout, and he suffered a setback in October and missed the first 13 games of the season.

The Pelicans’ first meeting of the season against the Lakers on Dec. 7 was Alvarado’s ninth game. The Lakers ended the Pelicans’ In-Season Tournament run in the semifinals that night by beating them by 44 points. It was evident the embarrassment of that loss was still fresh for the Pelicans on Sunday.

“We needed to win this game,” Alvarado said. “I want to play them in the playoffs and win that. The In-Season Tournament meant something. Not saying this game didn’t mean anything. But it meant something.

"We have to be glad we won today and took care of business. But when something means something, I think the payback is better.”

Alvarado took the ball from James three times Sunday. In the second quarter, Alvarado met James head-on in transition and wrestled the ball away. In the fourth quarter, Alvarado sneaked behind James again and popped the ball out of his hands.

“When he does stuff like that, it changes the game,” Zion Williamson said. “Those are plays that Bron could have come down and made a pull-up 3. Stuff like that is huge for momentum in games. That was big time.”

Williamson, who was criticized for his poor conditioning in the Pelicans’ In-Season Tournament loss to the Lakers, had one of his best games of the season. He scored 26 points (8-of-12 shooting), grabbed four rebounds and handed out six assists. Williamson converted 10 of 12 free-throw attempts, and he got Anthony Davis into foul trouble by attacking relentlessly. 

Collectively, Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum combined for 74 points and 23 assists. All of them scored more than 20 points for the second consecutive game.

“Those guys right now, it ain’t no surprise,” Alvarado said. “They trusting each other. And they trusting us.

"That’s one thing I think that’s the beauty of this team. Even though we are role players, they don’t treat us like that, though. They treat us like teammates. Like brothers. Like human beings. They see how much we put in work. There is a lot of trust going around.”

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