Anthony Davis hadn’t considered it yet, but the thought made him happy. LeBron James leaned all the way back into his locker and literally giggled when asked about it. Rajon Rondo had a Christmas list on which he was ready to get cracking. Alex Caruso had big plans to deal with his broken appliances.
The Lakers are going home.
Things won’t get much easier once there with games against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday and Clippers on Christmas Day, but at least they’ll be in their own beds with familiar surroundings.
“I cannot wait to get home to my kids and my wife and my family,” James said. “We’ll worry about Sunday when Sunday gets here. But feel like we’ve been on the road all year, to be honest. So I’m giving myself an opportunity to decompress. Please.”
The Lakers have not been on the road all year, but they have been in Los Angeles for only four full days this month. They played the Dallas Mavericks at home and then went on the road from Dec. 2 through 6. They returned home for three days, then hit the road for this 10-day trip that took them to Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.
For James, there was also a quick stopover in Columbus, Ohio, to catch his son’s Sierra Canyon High game against his alma mater of St. Vincent-St. Mary. He declared that he would not be thinking about basketball at all for a day, but quickly caught himself in that lie.
Long NBA trips are draining both mentally and physically. It is not something I fully appreciated until experiencing them. Being at home for so few days in a month leaves one feeling unsettled. Being in nine cities in the first 20 days of a month leaves one feeling confused about everything, from where you are to what day it is. I had fun writing about this phenomenon my first year on the beat.
It was not much of a surprise that the Lakers struggled at the start of Thursday night’s game against the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks. They made careless mistakes and didn’t shoot well in the first quarter. They gave up 42 points in the second quarter. It put them in a hole they spent the rest of the game trying to claw their way out of, and they almost did.
Coach Frank Vogel tried to preempt any talk of the Lakers’ weariness before the Bucks game.
“It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been on the road or all that stuff,” he said. “We feel like we can win every night in this league and that’s how we’re approaching this game, not any other type of approach. That’s just not who we are. We’re coming in here like the playing field is even and expecting to go out and compete and get a win.”
It’s a noble thought, but road weariness likely made a difference Thursday night.
After the trip to Miami, James got to make a very special detour.
He flew to Columbus the next morning to watch his son play against his alma mater. Nearly 14,000 people also attended the game that was initially supposed to be at St. Vincent-St. Mary High.
It was a treat to watch James live and die with every play of a high school basketball game. His role there was different, and there was a genuine lightness to James that day, who was surrounded by his family, that I don’t often see. He held his wife’s hand as he walked through a crowd of people following him through the bowels of the arena. He was giddy at the sight of seeing his son go through something so familiar to him.
It was the first of Bronny’s high school games that James has been able to attend. Normally he watches remotely after games when he can. And while Bronny is not allowed to do interviews, this was clearly a day that mattered a great deal to the high school freshman.
“He’s a kid,” Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier said. “Every boy wants his father to watch him play basketball regardless of who his father is.”
Bronny also had his best game of the season. A “coming-out party,” as Chevalier put it.
Let’s catch you up on the last week.
Since last we spoke …
- A week ago, the Lakers played the Heat in Miami, a place where the Heat had not lost this season. The Lakers trailed in this game too, but found a way to push past Miami. James used boxing metaphors to discuss the game. Davis talked about how much fun a tough opponent like that was. And the Lakers won their 13th consecutive road game.
- Heat star Jimmy Butler had a chance to tie the score in the closing seconds, but missed. The NBA later said officials should have called a foul on Davis and sent Butler to the free throw line.
- James caused a panic after that game because he collided with Butler and seemed to injure his elbow. The Lakers listed him as questionable for their next game in Atlanta.
- And then he flew back to work, met his team in Atlanta, and pushed them past a feisty Hawks team.
- For the week that was, James was named the Western Conference player of the week. It was his first weekly award as a Laker.
- James has been clear all season that he’s not interested in sitting out games unless he’s hurt. When asked about the future, he has said he needs to live in the moment. Our Dan Woike covered the game in Atlanta and they discussed the subject.
- The Lakers experienced a loss this week when JoAnn Buss died at 86. She was the mother of Lakers governor Jeanie Buss and three of her siblings.
- Davis sprained his ankle in Atlanta and missed Tuesday’s game against the Pacers. It hurt the Lakers. The Pacers managed to hand the Lakers their first loss away from Staples Center this season.
- Remember Magic Johnson? Bill Plaschke caught up with him at a charity event. He saw Johnson get to be like Santa Claus to a group of local kids, and chatted with Johnson about the Lakers. Johnson sees his stamp on how things are going now.
- Kyle Kuzma might be back for the Lakers on Sunday. In truth, his ankle felt good enough to play Thursday, but the Lakers wanted to give him more time before throwing him into a game.
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