Dave McMenaminESPN Writer5 minute read
SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty years after his announced stint in the NBA began, LeBron James didn’t mince words when asked about the challenge facing the Los Angeles Lakers to secure a place in the playoffs.
“Those are 23 of the most important games of my career, for a regular season,” James said Sunday before playing a record 19th All-Star Game. “That’s the type of mindset I have, and I hope the guys will have it, coming back from the break.”
After four NBA championships, 10 trips to the Finals and personal accomplishments galore, including his recent rise as the league’s all-time leading scorer, putting such an emphasis on this final stretch might become hyperbole.
James explained his position, revealing that the emergency didn’t start during the All-Star break but at the end of last season when Los Angeles failed to qualify for the playoffs – only the fourth time in his first 19 seasons his team didn’t make it.
“I want to make an effort to make the playoffs,” James said. “I don’t want to see myself not making the playoffs for two straight years. It’s just not in my DNA. We’re sitting here talking about the (scoring) record and things of that nature, and that’s all. cool, but i’m more passionate about trying to make the playoffs and give us a chance to compete for another larry o’brien trophy. that’s just who i am. that’s what I’m cut.
And if the Lakers can make the playoffs, then what?
“I’ve always been confident at any club I’ve been to once we got into the playoffs that we can compete with anybody, and I don’t feel any different now,” he said. said James. “With the roster of how we’re in shape right now, if we can end this regular season on the right foot, then we can compete with anybody in the Western Conference, if not the whole league. … If we can hit our ticket, we can compete with anyone.”
James, 38, is having a strong individual season, averaging 30 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists. But Los Angeles was inconsistent, taking a 27-32 record into the break and sitting 13th in the Western Conference – two games on the last play-in spot and 3½ games on the sixth seed, which would guarantee the Lakers a spot in the first round.
James has missed 14 games so far this season, including a recent three-game streak with a left foot and ankle injury, but he plans to be on the field as much as possible for the playoff pursuit.
“Hopefully I can find a way to make sure I’m available on the pitch every night for those 23 games to give us a chance,” James said, speaking to reporters for the first time. the weekend after being excused. Saturday for personal reasons. “Give our group a chance to compete every night and give us a chance to win every night so we can give ourselves a shot at getting into the playoffs.”
James said the four days off his left foot since the Lakers’ 120-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans before the break “helped, without having to stress him out.” He’s vowed to “not get too crazy” in the All-Star Game so he’ll be as healthy as possible for the Lakers’ next game on Thursday against the Golden State Warriors, who are 2½ games ahead of LA in the standings.
“The most important thing for me at the moment is to maintain my health and to be available for my teammates after this break, because we have to give a boost if we want to do something special,” he said. he declares.
The Lakers looked pretty special in the Pelicans game, with James joining the five new faces of Los Angeles – D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba and Davon Reed – for the first time. The Lakers clicked the opening tip and gave a glimpse of what their new group can be capable of.
“I love what we were able to accomplish the other day,” James said. “The worst thing for us is that we had to take a break. I would have loved if we could play on Friday and have a few games under our belt because it’s the first time our whole group has been together top to bottom. down. .
“But it is what it is. We all benefit from it. We all benefit from the rest.”
Because it will be time to leave soon enough.
“It’s going to take a lot of commitment, which is good,” James said. “That’s what it should be about. We are professionals. What else do we need to do? Make sure the family is good when you leave the house. You have people helping you to We’re okay?