Column: LeBron James carries Lakers to victory, but in the future he will need more help
The warning came in Minneapolis this week. Too many mistakes were being repeated, leading to too many losses.
“You don’t want to be around me when my patience runs out,” LeBron James said.
Turns out, it’s terrifying.
James walked into Staples Center on Wednesday night, his team with an ugly 2-5 record, dressed like a murderous monster, complete with hockey mask and hammer. Yikes.
The costume wasn’t meant for his teammates, at least not yet. No, the really scary thought Wednesday would have been the Lakers falling to 2-6, losing at home to the scuffling Dallas Mavericks. So instead of dealing with all of that, James channeled his rampage into a more positive fashion.
More so than in any of his previous seven games with the Lakers, James truly led the Lakers to a win, delivering the kind of performance he’ll need to have to win with his new team.
Forget the game-winning free throw with seconds to play. James’ effect on the win started much earlier.
It didn’t start with James hammering his teammates. It began with him finding them for easy shots. He had five assists in the first quarter, getting Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball into the game. When there were opportunities for him, like the first time star rookie Luka Doncic found himself guarding James in the post, he made Dallas pay for them.
He has had better numbers this year — a triple-double against Denver and more points in losses to San Antonio — but this was his best game as the team’s engine, driving the Lakers and their young core to an important win over a lesser team.
For the Lakers to get to the playoffs, to get deep in the playoffs, James can’t do it alone. This isn’t the same as his time in the Eastern Conference, where the contenders are outnumbered by the teams playing for draft positioning.
Wednesday’s win was tougher than it needed to be, with another rocky fourth quarter where the Lakers got away from the good things they were doing in building and holding onto a double-digit lead for most of the game.
And when the Lakers are more fully developed down the line, James would’ve been a bigger presence on some of the empty late-game offensive possessions that allowed Dallas to tie the score.
But, that’s not what the Lakers wanted because that’s not what the Lakers need.
“We know LeBron can win games,” coach Luke Walton said.
Instead, he called plays for Ingram to try to close out the Mavericks (he couldn’t), but for the team’s long-term health, Walton thought it would be best to put him in that situation.
“We know where we’re trying to go to. ... That’s the game plan,” Walton said.
And James still seems on board.
Earlier in the day, James posted a doctored photo of himself and Kobe Bryant sharing the court both in Lakers’ gold with the caption: “Man Imagine If We Had It Wouldn’t Even Be...... Never mind. 23•24 (crown emoji and snake emoji) #LivingLegends SHEESH!!! Happy Halloween!!”
It’s a fun fantasy, James and Bryant together on the court as teammates instead of competitors, but it’s not happening, even if James has used social media to hint at his mind-set.
Unless the Lakers panic and make a move for someone like Jimmy Butler, the best version of this team still is James lifting everyone else up. It’s him drawing attention at the three-point line so Ingram can go one on one with less help.
It’s him coming to a game dressed like a killer, only to beat up on the opposition by picking them apart with pinpoint passes.
It’s on his teammates to come with him. So far, they’ve been able to only in spots. They did it for most of the first three quarters Wednesday, looking as if they were on their way to a blowout. They were far from perfect at the end.
“The best teacher in life is experience,” James said.
He has it; no one else does.
And because of his work early, because of his late-game poise, the Lakers were able to gain some while winning too.
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