LeBron James helped the Lakers become the first NBA team to 15 wins this season. Then again, the universe gave him Anthony Davis to play with so we probably should have seen this coming.
With Thanksgiving week kicking off it’s important to approach life with a respectful amount of perspective, which also means I am fully rooting around the garage for my Lakers flag because this team is back on top of the basketball world and food just tastes better.
The Lakers have gone out and done exactly what they needed to do with a relatively soft early schedule. At 15-2, this Lakers team has put together a special body of work in a short amount of time.
There were supposed to be growing pains, something we all expected after an Opening Night loss to the lauded Clippers. Sixteen games later and the only debate is whether this team is going to win 70 games or not.
And I wouldn’t put it past them, because I wouldn’t put it past LeBron James. Seventeen seasons in and the debate was whether his legs could carry him, completely forgetting that wisdom and a full offseason to recuperate can go a long way.
“LeBron James, just doing what he does on the offense that deflates the other team,” explained head coach Frank Vogel after Monday’s win over the Spurs, 114-104, via Spectrum SportsNet. “Now they’re all figuring out how to stop him and not focused on executing offensively. His offense sort of punches them, knocks them down. Obviously, that just strengthens our D.”
James has been every bit his royal self this season, again vying for MVP honors with a stat line of 25.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 10.8 assists per game.
But he’s really turned it on in the last few games when his team has needed him the most. In the past seven games, LeBron is scoring 28 points per game in just 35 minutes played while shooting 51.9% from the floor. He’s also chipping in 11 assists per contest during that frame.
The concerning part is that the Lakers have at times been in dire need of a boost from the King.
Through 17 games, the Lakers are plus-9.5 with him on the court but a paltry and worrisome -0.6 with him off the floor.
At the moment, LeBron is healthy and looking like a 2K version of himself, knocking down threes and chasing down blocks.
On Monday night he helped get past the Spurs with another stellar performance. It took him just 35 minutes to garner 33 points and 14 assists.
His colleague in superhuman ability, Anthony Davis, had a relatively slow night but turned things around in the second half, finishing with 19 points, two blocks and 12 boards while going plus-10 on the night.
There have been games where the two present a daunting dynamic with Davis providing stifling defense and chipping in with an unrelenting presence on the other end of the floor.
There are those games, as with Monday, when Davis has struggled a bit (36.8% from the field). But James has been the one constant in the Lakers’ early season domination.
It’s almost unfair that someone who has played this long can perform at this level. Normally athletes are leaning heavily on wit and wisdom at this point in their career.
Instead James has the Lakers cruising. And with the Pelicans on Wednesday and the Wizards after that, the winning should continue.
However, tough days are indeed ahead with a December schedule that includes a road stretch of Denver, Utah and Portland. Davis spoke to those types of concerns recently.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys who have been through tons of adversity throughout their career,” Davis said, via Silver Screen and Roll. “I feel like we have a veteran coaching staff as well who have been through it and will try to make sure that we stay ready for it. We’re not going to stay hot like this forever, and so whether it’s this road trip or later on this season, something is going to happen. Some adversity is going to hit where we might lose two or three in a row. And that’s not a time to panic.”
That’s the mentality of a team that plays with a sense of urgency, as if they understand that every win in November will become crucial a few months from now. It’s a team that plays to their strengths better than any in the NBA.
It just so happens that their strengths include big men in the middle and LeBron James orchestrating it all with the ball in his hands.
When healthy, it’s a formidable combination. As Season 17 unfolds, James is back to his old tricks. He’s again carrying a team, but this time one that is fully committed to defense and capable of knocking down their shots.
While averaging the lowest number of minutes per game in his career, he is managing to squeeze every last bit of efficiency from those moments. And he is doing it with a superstar in Anthony Davis by his side.
The Lakers have chemistry and depth. They also have no reason to worry that the good times will end anytime soon.