While the exhausted Lakers crawls on the court in mid-season games, their best player insists on playing.
LeBron needs to accept that it is not worth it. That can be very dangerous. And that is making it unproductive and will wear you out even more day after day.
He’s from another world, everyone knows that. But he is 36 years old. He’s invincible, but he’s human. He certainly won the right to be trustworthy, but Lakers fans won the right to be skeptical.
James’s recent wave of many-minute games – luckily with a break on Wednesday when he actually rested the entire fourth period in a senseless defeat for league leader Utah Jazz – is yet another of the Lakers’ notable attempts trying to be heroes.
We’ve talked this week, what happened when 34-year-old Kobe Bryant played at least 46 minutes in seven consecutive games while trying to drag his teammates into the playoffs.
Without the injured Anthony Davis and, more recently, Dennis Schroder because of health and safety protocols, the Lakers became the laughing stock, and James certainly felt a burden the same size as Kobe in 2013 to make them respectable.
While Bryant had the noble task of taking his team into the postseason, James is trying to take these Lakers where at this moment? Should I really take a beating from Jazz so that he could watch the bench game? What will it take to really convince you, for the first time this season, to rest for an entire game?
His 28 minutes of play on Wednesday marked just the sixth time in 12 games this month, which he played less than 38 minutes. In four of those games, he played over 41 minutes. He leads the league in minutes in February, and do you know the last time it happened in an entire month? In 2006, when he was 21 years old.
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He had young legs. Now he is fighting tired legs. In his last 11 games, he has thrown 23% of the three-point line, his worst performance in the past three seasons.
Sure, the Lakers are at their worst at losing four consecutive games without Davis and Schroder, but so what?
Those games will be forgotten when we get to the playoffs. These constraints will be smothered by Schroder’s possible appearance this weekend and Davis’s expected return some time after the All-Star break. These defeats could cost the Lakers a few posts in the postseason classification, but with just a handful of fans in the stands, the advantage of a court order is meaningless.
The Lakers will not need these games in June, but they will need LeBron James.
If the recent drop in production for the entire team after the short 71-day break between seasons is any indication, at the time of “vamovê” things can get ugly. The Lakers need their best player at their best. They need the unbreakable James to recognize and respect his mortality. They need the king to take a throne.
Many people think he beat the clock so impressively over 18 seasons that no one has the right to question his methods. He knows himself better than anyone. If he says he can play, shut up and let him play.
“I liked what he said,” said ESPN analyst Mark Jackson during the game’s broadcast on Wednesday, adding: “If he wants to play, I trust him.”
But there is a different narrative here. That’s where the Lakers need to protect James from himself. It is also where they need to protect themselves from James.
Some wonder if he is playing in search of a fifth MVP prize, matching the bounty earned by Michael Jordan. But the Lakers never judged success by MVP awards. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won each. Jerry West never won one.
The Lakers also do not celebrate weekly wins, monthly records or any game that is played before the playoffs. Unless Bryant scored 81 points on a Sunday night in late January, they were barely paying attention.
This franchise is supplied by championships and championships only. James knows that. He said that. Last fall, he publicly acknowledged that Lakers fans would never fully accept him until he won a title.
He won one. He’s at the club. People love him. The team loves it. The community appreciates him. There is only one thing he can do to make him even more dear to this city of champions.
Win another title.
This is not guaranteed if he becomes the oldest player to win an MVP.
Assuming Davis is healthy, the Lakers’ only way to win a championship is if James is also healthy.
What we’re talking about here is that James is messing with his health, which means that, in all his greatness, LeBron James is messing with the Lakers.
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