In the eyes of LeBron James, if the weight of chasing down a playoff spot in the super-tough Western Conference has become too much of a burden for any of his teammates, then they shouldn’t be playing for a Lakers franchise that lives only for playing for championships.
After producing the 79th triple-double of his career with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a maddening 110-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night at the FedEx Forum, James scoffed at the idea that the playoff race is a distraction for his teammates.
“At this point, if you are still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, then this is the wrong franchise to be a part of and you should just come and be like, ‘Listen ... I cannot do this,’” James said. “Like, seriously, if you’re distracted by playoff pushes out of all the stuff that’s been talked about this year? Nah. Just come and do your job.
“We do our job at a high level and that’s not a distraction. That’s what you want. That’s what you want every game. You want to feel like you’re fighting for something.”
The Lakers have won 16 championships, but haven’t captured a title since 2010 and have missed the playoffs the last five years. James has won three championships and made the playoffs the last 13 years.
But with their third straight road loss to a losing team, the Lakers fell to 29-31, tied with Minnesota for 10th in the West, three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 22 to play.
James, whose triple-double broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain for the fifth most in NBA history, also became the first player to rank in the top 10 in both points and assists. His 32,162 points rank fifth in league history and his 8,535 assists rank 10th, passing Andre Miller.
But James didn’t care much about his accomplishments after losing at Memphis. He cared more about establishing a positive tone for his teammates.
“Starts with me. I just got to stay positive,” James said. “Keep knocking on the door. And I felt like if we play like we did tonight, then we got to continue that consistent effort that will get us over the hump as we make this push. So, this is a tough loss, obviously. I’m replaying plays throughout my mind right now. It’s tough. But just stay positive and keep watching the film.”
Brandon Ingram provided a positive sign with 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting, six rebounds and four assists. Kyle Kuzma had 22 points on nine-for-15 shooting.
On the other hand, the bench had just seven points, making three of 14 shots.
Sure, the Lakers have lost four out of five and are two games under .500 for the first time since Nov. 4. But James preferred to look at the positives.
“You can’t let anything get you down at this point,” he said. “I mean, this is competition. It’s what we’re here for. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so for me, being the leader of the team, I’m very positive on what we can still do.