LeBron James did not have a great outing overall in his first game back with the Los Angeles Lakers, but how he finished stood out.
The NBA had its’ first seeding games on Thursday in the league’s bubble in Orlando, and in what was the furthest thing from shocking, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were in action. The Cleveland Cavaliers GOAT player in James and the Lakers took on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the LA Clippers.
Not reading too much into the first seeding game back, though, really, it was an exciting contest that featured swings throughout the game. All in all, the Lakers would go on to win 103-101, and in the grand scheme, it probably wasn’t one that mattered much, but it was nice to see the competitiveness of both teams and them going for it.
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Albeit what the key takeaway was from it for me, was that even on a night when James was about as off as he’ll ever be, going six-of-19, he still was big in crunch time. Anthony Davis had 34 points and paced the Lakers, too.
LeBron got help from Kyle Kuzma, who had 16 points, to go with Dion Waiters even, who had 11 points, and Kuzma, in particular, was very active defensively.
In relation to James, though, while he again had a tough outing overall, he came up big down the stretch, and that was defensively in the second half, too.
According to matchup tracking data from NBA Advanced Stats, James conceded 1 point and one assist in primary matchups against Leonard in 13.3 partial possessions.
Leonard was 0-for-three from the field in those instances, and though the frequency was only 4.3 partial possessions, conceded one assist in primary defensive matchups on to George, again, per matchup tracking data from NBA Advanced Stats. In the closing sequence, LeBron James locked up both Kawhi and PG, too.
So anyway, even while it was a rough outing for James in the general sense, as he also had five turnovers, James still had a winning offensive rebound putback to take the lead with 12.8 seconds left and came up with great defensive play. To me, come playoff time in the bubble, the King will show out as usual.
Expect LeBron to be ultra-sharp in the postseason, where as Cleveland Cavaliers know, is when he’ll take it up a notch.
Even with the long layoff given the prior novel coronavirus-induced hiatus, James will always be ready to roll as much as anybody.
In the postseason, too, while the Lakers will need continued contributions from the likes of Dion Waiters, who briefly played with James on Cleveland before. The same goes for realistically Kuzma, to go with Danny Green and they’ll need rock solid defense from Alex Caruso, but even in Year 17, James is capable of leading L.A. to a title.
He has been much, much better defensively throughout 2019-20 as opposed to 2018-19, and the Lakers will need him to have his instances matching up against opposing teams’ best wings.
Either way, as Cavs fans know so well, one can always expect James to be ultra-sharp in the postseason, and I’d imagine that’s what we’ll see. While the Clippers were without Lou Williams following him going to an Atlanta strip club after an excused absence reportedly for a viewing for a father of a family friend, leading to a 10-day quarantine, as h/t ESPN, James and the Lakers’ victory was still a meaningful one.
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So in regards to James’ postseason numbers, while again he is getting up there and is now 35, he still has career playoff averages of 28.9 points, 8.9 points, 7.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. As far as this 2019-20 campaign, James has put up 25.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and has led the NBA with 10.5 assists per outing.
Moreover, while the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo seems to be the overwhelming favorite and almost a near-lock to win his second straight MVP, James is still the best player in the NBA, I believe.
In a recent appearance on FS1’s Speak For Yourself, current Cavs big Tristan Thompson, who won a championship with James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and others in 2016, Thompson emphasized why James is the best NBA player. That’s even now, as h/t Cavaliers Nation’s Jonathan Sherman.
From my perspective, and of course I know I’m a Cavs/Cleveland sports fan, these comments by Thompson further emphasize how James is still the best player in the NBA with his all-around skill set.
Anyhow, to reiterate, as Cleveland Cavaliers fans know so well, you always know the King will be ultra-sharp in the postseason.
I wouldn’t read much if at all into his tough first outing back.