Slowly but surely, things are turning around for the Lakers, who pulled themselves back up over .500 and into the Top 7 in the NBA‘s Western Conference with a tight win over Sacramento at home on Tuesday. Most impressive for the Lakers was the late-game play of star forward LeBron James, who turned around a slow start (2-for-6 shooting in the first quarter) with a second-half takeover, as he finished with 31 points.
And, as some punctuation on that performance, James let his former teammate know about.
With 52 seconds to play in the game, James drove hard to the rim and drew a foul on Kings center (and former teammate) Damian Jones, making the layup in the process and putting L.A. up by six points (he missed the free throw).
But in his excitement celebrating the make, James found another former teammate from his days in Cleveland, center Tristan Thompson, who was on the Kings bench. James began talking some trash to Thompson, interpreted by some as the NSFW, “I’m a mother****ing problem!”
Thompson and James were teammates for James’ last four-year stint in Cleveland, from 2014-2018, which saw the Cavs go to four straight NBA Finals.
Here’s the play:
James, Monk Took Over in Fourth Quarter
James and teammate Malik Monk took over in the win over the Kings in the fourth quarter, combining to score 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting in the period. He shook off the poor start in doing so, at the urging of his teammates.
“I missed a lot of really good looks early on, but my teammates were just telling me, ‘Bring us home,’” James said in his postgame press conference. “When you get the confidence from your teammates and continue to trust the work you put in, you live with the results no matter what.”
James topped the 30-point mark for the 16th time this season, in a total of 27 appearances. He has been especially productive lately with star big man Anthony Davis out, posting 20-point games in eight of his last nine outings.
In those nine games, James is averaging 34.3 points and 55.4% shooting, with 9.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
LeBron James Addresses Minutes Concerns
He is also, however, logging 36.7 minutes per game in that span, which is a concern for the Lakers. James is 37 now, and the team had hoped to rein in his playing time during the season to keep him fresh for the playoffs. That has not happened, though, as the Lakers (like most teams around the league) have been ravaged by COVID-19 and injuries.
Instead, James is averaging 36.9 minutes per game, second in the NBA. He addressed that issue on Tuesday:
I mean, obviously, throughout the course of a game, we try to pick moments when I can get some rest. Obviously, without AD, we have all had to pick up in some ways where we probably didn’t beforehand—so that’s doing more rebounding, doing more screening, doing more taking charges, doing more trying to get blocked shots and also picking up more minutes as well. So, you know, I’ve always put myself in a position where I can play heavy minutes and do whatever it takes to help this team win. Coach has done a good job … just trying to watch my minutes at times, but we also need to win ball games as well.