LOS ANGELES — Sometimes, it is this simple:
Sunday, LeBron James was +19 in a game the Lakers lost by one.
Monday, LeBron was +19 again — and scored a season-high 48 points — in a game the Lakers won by eight (over the team on an 11-game losing streak).
It’s tempting to say the Lakers go as LeBron goes, but that’s not accurate. He has been brilliant, bringing it every night in the season he turned 38—he’s a deserving All-Star starter who reached a historic scoring milestone on Sunday night.
On too many nights, LeBron is not enough.
LeBron has dragged the Lakers to an 8-8 record without Davis, but it’s obvious watching them how much he is missed. Officially, coach Darvin Ham said there is no timeline, and when asked what he needs to see, “Just ramp up the on court stuff, getting him running up and down. Right now, he’s basically been regulated to stay in the half court but just once we see him running and then coming in the following day, just to see how his body di lui responds — his foot di lui in particular how that response — to just an increased workload within the workout.”
For now, the Lakers are the LeBron James show.
LeBron was enough on Martin Luther King Day when he poured in 48 on the Rockets.
“I think it’s historic, man,” Ham said postgame. “On a lot of different levels. For him to be at this point in his career and still be able to produce at the level at which he’s producing, I think all of us just being able to witness it, be a part of it, it shows his competitive spirit. His no quit mentality.”
It was the second night of a back-to-back and there had been speculation LeBron would get the night off (he was listed as questionable due to a sore ankle much of the day). LeBron admitted he was worn down from the previous night’s game, but played anyway.
“I could have very easily taken tonight off, but I don’t feel like the momentum of our ball club could use me taking a night off tonight,” LeBron said, referring to the team’s three-game losing streak coming in. “I don’t feel like I wanted to sit on that loss to Philly last night, I wanted to get that out of my tastebuds and see if we could win a ballgame tonight.”
LeBron’s best wasn’t enough one night before. Or the game before that.
Sunday against the 76ers, LeBron was the best player on the court — 35 points plus 10 assists — yet, when the Lakers had the chance to win down one but with the ball in the final seconds, LeBron never touched the rock. Russell Westbrook decided to isolate on Joel Embiid.
“We got a stop, gave ourselves a chance to win the game, we didn’t,” a frustrated LeBron said postgame in the locker room after the Lakers lost to the Sixers.
It was much the same story a couple of nights earlier in a double-overtime loss.
“I thought Bron was phenomenal, you know, really playing downhill playing the right way, running off the ball,” Ham said after the Mavericks game. “Really finding guys as well. I thought he was really, really good.”
LeBron having to carry these Lakers is starting to become overshadowed by the narrative of him chasing history.
He made history Sunday with a 20-foot straight-on jumper midway through the first quarter, meaning LeBron became only the second player in the NBA to reach 38,000 points.
LeBron is now 316 points shy of the NBA’s all-time scoring record — a record once thought unbreakable — held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron is on pace to break the record in the first couple weeks of February, although it’s possible the drama drags out until after the All-Star break (the Lakers’ first game after the break is at home against the Warriors).
That’s the show, the distraction to the fact the Lakers are four games below .500 and staring up in the standings at the play-in midseason. LeBron has done all he could to keep the Lakers in the postseason mix, both with Davis in and out of the lineup. He has carried this team for the past month, and it appears the Cavalry is coming (in the form of Davis, and maybe a trade).
It won’t be enough to get LeBron and the Lakers where they want to go. But it will be better than this. LeBron deserves the help.