In the estimation of his Lakers teammates, there was no need for many words, or any at all, to describe the message LeBron James sent with his performances this weekend.
They just went with an acronym.
“MVP,” Anthony Davis said.
“MVP,” Kyle Kuzma reiterated.
This weekend the Lakers took on two of the NBA’s best teams, and two teams they had not yet beaten. The Milwaukee Bucks came to Staples Center on Friday with the league’s best record, and the Clippers hosted the Lakers on Sunday with a 2-0 advantage against the city’s glitzier team. In both games, James went head to head with the opponent’s star or sometimes stars. In both games, James dominated.
“It’s my responsibility to put this team in a position to be successful,” James said. “They look at me as a leader. And it’s my job, not only on the floor to get guys opportunities, get them great looks, but to inspire them as well. To show them that I’m not slowing down, even at this stage of my career.”
On Sunday afternoon, that led to a 112-103 win over the Clippers, behind 28 points from James, along with nine assists and seven rebounds.
“He was unbelievable,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said. “His best weekend in a Lakers uniform, I’m assuming. I wasn’t here last year. But in my mind, this season, this was his best two-game stretch. Really just dominated — dominated — both games and helped close them out.”
Sunday’s game wasn’t James’ most efficient when it came to shooting, but his impact on the game was undeniable.
He wasn’t settling for jumpers, he was driving to the rim. In a tough, physical game, James was fouled often and made 12 of 14 free throws. In the fourth quarter, a period in which Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers often impose their will, James’ bruising, driving layups gave the Lakers the edge they needed.
“If you let LeBron get to the basket, he’s just too good,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Not just his scoring but just the fact that he can pass the basketball. So he got both tonight. He got to the basket and he was able to bring guys in and make plays. That for us, that was on us, but it happened too much. That can’t happen.”
Furthermore, James’ defense became a focal point for him. On Friday night he defended Giannis Antetokounmpo out of necessity. On Sunday he took on Leonard at times and Paul George at other times.
Then there were the hustle plays. In the fourth quarter, it was James rolling around the court to retrieve a loose ball and flip it to his teammate.
“What helped is that I was already on the floor,” James said. “That helped out a lot. And having a wingspan that’s pretty long, I was able to grab it before a Clipper guy got in, and get up and get it to a teammate. It was a big play for us.”
James checked out of the game with 31 seconds remaining, just after converting his final three-point play and giving the Lakers a 12-point lead.
He walked over to the bench amid an uproarious cheer from the pro-Lakers portion of the crowd. His teammates gave him high fives and hugs. Kuzma chose a different celebration. Before James sat down, Kuzma lifted his arms and placed an imaginary crown on James’ head.