LeBron James calls Lakers playoff push ’23 of the most important games of my career’ – Orange County Register
SALT LAKE CITY – LeBron James looks back on 20 years in the NBA and has no shortage of key seasons and sequences that have shaped his career.
But the 38-year-old seems to think the final games of the season will define him too.
Ahead of his 19th All-Star game appearance Sunday afternoon, James stressed the urgency of the 27-32 Lakers trying to climb back up to the playoffs from 13th place in the Western Conference for the first time since 2021.
“That’s 23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season,” he said. “That’s the kind of mindset I have and I hope the lads will have it when they come back from the break.”
While James’ selection as All-Star captain for Sunday’s game was a reminder of his still-prominent position in the NBA world, he and his team still have most of the league looking up near the bottom of the table. The Lakers have given up since the start of the season (after a 2-10 start) and have not been in an even play-in position for most of the year.
The team’s trades — most notably the landing of D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, all of whom started in the last game before the break — have sparked some hope for the franchise, even if they’re two games off 10th place 23 games left. The Lakers had the advantage of comfortably winning their Wednesday game against the New Orleans Pelicans, which James said was nice to see but he wished the team could have kept playing rather than being given a time-out.
“The worst thing for us is that we had to take a break,” he said. “I would have loved if we could have played on Friday and put together a few games because it’s the first time our entire group has been together top to bottom.”
However, the time off could be for James’ best. He missed three straight games with a left foot injury that he and the team said was not a structural issue but was painful and required close monitoring.
He spent several days on retreat with his wife, Savannah James, including a trip to Antelope Canyon in Arizona. The escape was also a break for his foot. James said he will strive to be available in each of the last 23 games to ensure the Lakers make the playoffs.
“Those few days helped not having to be on the floor,” he said. “So it helped. I’ll try not to go too crazy in the (All Star) game. … The most important thing for me now is to keep my health and to be there for my teammates after this break because we have to give a strong boost if we want to achieve something special.”
James already believed he was returning to the NBA postseason almost a year ago while watching the playoffs from home: “I can/will NOT miss the postseason for my career anymore! That (phrase) hurts.” By late December, when the Lakers were struggling overall, he had quietly deleted the tweet.
But James, who has reached eight straight finals and nine finals in 10 years, knows he will be judged at the end of his career. While the undeniable highlight of his five-year Laker stint was the 2020 championship, when he won Finals MVP, James has missed the playoffs twice in his last four seasons, and the Lakers didn’t make it out of the first round in 2021.
James has never missed consecutive postseasons — and he has no plans to.
“I don’t want to see that I’m not part of the postseason for two years – it’s just not part of my DNA,” he said. “We’re sitting up here and talking about the record and things like that and it’s all cool, but I’m more passionate about trying to make the postseason and give us a chance to fight for another Larry O’Brien Trophy.”
Less than two weeks ago, in a game against Oklahoma City, James became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer when he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In his press conference, James claimed he’s not one to “bask in my accomplishments”, adding: “I’m very weird when it comes to celebrating myself. I’m not comfortable with that. Hopefully I’ll get better.”
The words rang a little hollow on a night as the NBA prepared to honor James for the third time in two weeks. But James said the moment that caught his eye was how his daughter Zhuri James reacted live to his basket, cheering, shaking her fists and clapping excitedly.
“It’s hard for me to stop because seeing Zhuri’s reaction to it is just the greatest thing – it’s so cool,” he said. “When I’m having a bad day, I know exactly where to go to make my day better.”
James also addressed his post-career plans, chuckling that he won’t be playing for 20 years after this season. He’s previously said, tongue-in-cheek, that if the NBA ever expands, he wants to own a team in Las Vegas. But he struck a serious tone when discussing the possibility on Sunday: James, who was recently named a billionaire by Forbes, would be only the second former NBA player to ever own a team if he could one day make it .
“I see myself as part of the game even after I’m done playing,” he said, detailing his involvement with Fenway Sports Group. “Ownership is something I’m a part of now in a lot of the things I do off the pitch. To translate that into the game of basketball, I feel like I could give back to this game in so many ways, even if I’m not wearing a uniform, which could benefit the sport.
“I would love to one day own an NBA franchise and be able to bring a successful franchise to a city,” James added. “Like I said, Vegas is a really cool city and they’re doing some great things in sports these days.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/02/19/lebron-james-calls-lakers-playoff-push-23-of-the-most-important-games-of-my-career/ LeBron James calls Lakers playoff push ’23 of the most important games of my career’ – Orange County Register