Relative to his usual numbers, Monday night was a tame performance from Lakers star LeBron James, his third such so-so outing in the NBA restart that got underway last Thursday in Orlando. James had 22 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists, content to allow teammate Anthony Davis to shine in the win over Utah.
But for James, the win represented more than personal stats. It represented how far he had taken the Lakers sine he agreed to sign with the team in the summer of 2018. At the time, the Lakers had not been to the postseason since 2013, by far the longest such stretch in franchise history, and had not been the No. 1 seed in the West since they went 57-25 in 2010.
In beating the Jazz, the Lakers sealed the top seed in the conference. James was pleased.
“They said I couldn’t do it,” he told Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times after the game. “I’ll enjoy this one. They said I can’t do it.”
It is not clear to whom James was referring. Perhaps when he first signed with the Lakers and had a skeleton of a team around him, there were doubters. But the Lakers were certainly among the favorites to win the West entering this season after they’d traded for star big man Anthony Davis last summer.
Still, James reveled in proving someone, somewhere wrong.
LeBron James Speaks on George Floyd
In his press conference after the win, James did not focus on the milestone of earning the West’s No. 1 seed. Instead, he was focused on George Floyd, whose death at the hands of police in Minneapolis in late May was the spark that started months of protests around the country.
James noted that when the Lakers played the Raptors on Saturday night, the teams knelt for both the U.S. and the Canadian national anthems. That drove home to him that it is actually not easy to kneel for an extended period of time—the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck before he died, Derek Chauvin, did so for nearly nine minutes.
He wore a T-shirt to the game with a stopwatch on the chest set at 8:46 (the amount of time Chauvin is believed to have knelt on Floyd’s neck) and “Minneapolis” underneath.
“We actually as a unit, as a team, had to switch our knees over from one knee to the other knee because they started to get sore,” James said, according to ESPN. “They started to kind of start hurting a little bit. And that’s just a little over four minutes. They started to kind of start hurting a little bit. And that’s just a little over four minutes.”
James went on:
You think about 8 minutes and 46 seconds, an officer having his knee on someone’s throat for that long. Video or no video, it doesn’t matter. No one deserved to lose their life when it could have been prevented from what I’ve seen and from what the world has seen. So that’s what the T-shirt is all about: The world is watching. Everyone knows the time. Everyone knows what’s going on.
Anthony Davis Bounces Back With Big Game, Hot Shooting
On the floor, James was pleased to see a bounce-back game from Davis, who is as responsible for the Lakers’ ascension in the conference as James. After scoring just 14 points on 2-for-7 shooting in the Raptors loss, Davis posted 42 points and 12 rebounds on Monday.
He is now averaging 30.0 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Lakers in the three games since the league restarted its season. He was 4-for-8 shooting from the 3-point line, raising his 3-point percentage to 43.8% in the last three games. Going back to before the All-Star break, Davis has taken 4.7 3-pointers per game and made 42.6% of them, one of the best stretches—albeit an interrupted stretch—of his career.
“When you’re a great player, you learn from one game,” James said of Davis. “You adjust. And then you turn it into something different the next game, and he absolutely did that tonight.”