On LeBron James’ 38th birthday, the Los Angeles Lakers entered their match versus the Atlanta Hawks with a dismal 14-21 record that put them in 13th place in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles came into the season with its usual postseason aspirations, yet a slow start coupled with Anthony Davis’ foot injury have dimmed these hopes. The Lakers had lost five of their last six games leading up to James’ birthday and their postseason hopes were beginning to slip away. A loss to the Hawks would not have meant the end of the world or even their playoff chances, but it would have been a fitting way to end a disappointing calendar year for this historic franchise.
With their backs seemingly against the wall and the pressure to salvage their season building up, Los Angeles pushed back and took home a 130-121 road win over Atlanta. They were powered by a vintage showing from the 18-time NBA All-Star James who put up 47 points, four three-pointers, 10 rebounds, nine assists, and a block to celebrate his special day.
James was energized from the opening tip as he scored his first two points of the game via a powerful transition dunk three minutes into the opening period. Later on in the fourth quarter, he scored eight straight points to put the Lakers up by six, 122-116, with 1:43 remaining in the contest. The lead that James built was enough of a cushion for Los Angeles to cruise to victory and cap off their underwhelming year on a rare good note.
The supporting cast for the Lakers stepped up as five other players chipped in at least 10 points. Thomas Bryant had an impressive 19-point and 17- rebound showing while Russell Westbrook came off the bench for 14 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, and one block. Meanwhile, Dennis Schroder, Wenyen Gabriel, and Patrick Beverley added 12, 11, and 10 points, respectively.
Beyond James’ throwback performance, Los Angeles will need performances like these from the rest of their team on a more frequent basis if they are to claw their way back into the play-in picture. The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James may still be an elite player despite his advanced age, yet he cannot do it alone. Westbrook, Bryant, and Schroder in particular need to bring these kinds of contributions on a more consistent basis.
The clock is ticking on James’ illustrious career so the pressure is on, not just for the players, but also for Los Angeles’ front office. They have to make a move before the February 9 trade deadline to improve this roster’s chances of fighting for a playoff berth. Davis could return over these next few weeks as well which would give them a much-needed boost.
All is not lost for these Lakers, yet they–both their executives and current players–will have to act fast to save this season and avoid wasting another precious year of James’ career.