LeBron James is showing that he’s still one of the NBA’s elite players. While he turns 38 in a few days, he’s still producing heavily for the Los Angeles Lakers as Anthony Davis again sits on the sidelines with an injury.
James’ most recent game against the Dallas Mavericks saw him finish with 38 points, six rebounds and five assists while shooting 13 of 23 from the field and a perfect 12 of 12 from the free throw line. Unfortunately, that performance again came in a loss, as the rest of the Lakers starting five couldn’t match his scoring output.
They got 17 points, five rebounds and four assists from Russell Westbrook off the bench, while Austin Reaves had 16 points on 5 of 7 shooting, but it’s clear that without Davis, the Lakers do not have the talent to compete in the loaded Western Conference. Heck, they need Davis just to keep themselves in the mix because of how many talented teams are competing for the playoffs in the West this year.
The Lakers are 3-7 in their last 10 games and have lost four in a row. While James is still capable of scoring and playmaking, one can see the wear and tear it’s putting on his body to try to keep the Lakers within a play-in position. However, James looks exhausted at the end of games. In the last couple of seasons, we’ve already seen him not have enough gas to come back on defense at the end of games. With all of the miles he has on his legs, it’s hard to blame him.
Opponents are also taking advantage of when James sits or is fatigued on the court, and one example is the third quarter of the game against the Mavericks. The team with the younger legs set a Christmas Day record for scoring in a quarter as they outscored the Lakers 51-21.
After the Lakers went ahead 58-46 with 10:33 left in the third quarter, the Mavericks went on a 48-17 run that pushed their lead to 94-75 heading into the fourth. While the Lakers made an admirable effort at trying to come back, they couldn’t make enough of a dent in the Dallas lead before James sat for good with 2:57 left in the game as the Lakers stared at a 19-point deficit.
While it’s clear that James is still capable of amazing things on the court, he’s no longer capable of carrying a team for 48 minutes. The scoring record may be the only accolade that he can compete for this season, and that’s not his fault. He just doesn’t have enough help.
Davis, who should be taking the lead as the Lakers’ best player now, still can’t stay consistently healthy. He was just starting to dominate the league again before going down, averaging 27.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 59.4% from the field. Unfortunately, it looks like the bubble championship may be the only banner that the Lakers will be able to squeeze out of the Davis-James pairing.
James also has a player option on his contract for the 2024-25 season, so the Lakers may realistically only have this season and the next to try to win one more with the best player of his generation. Unless they can pull off some sort of miracle trade using Westbrook’s expiring $47 million contract by February, they may not even make the playoffs this season.
While James was diplomatic after the loss against Dallas, I wonder when he’ll also get fed up with the Lakers’ bad results. He’s not absolved from blame for the state of the Lakers roster, as he would have had a lot of input regarding making the trade for Westbrook, but James has left for greener pastures before. We may see a repeat of this toward at end of his career.