LeBron James is in his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers and, by extension, his first campaign in the Western Conference. This change has put him in a position where he is not normally at this point of the season: fighting desperately for a playoff spot is not entirely clear to the Lakers.
When he spoke about this challenge to journalists after Wednesday's team practice, James seemed calm, downright indifferent to a difficult closing schedule.
His reasoning for his trust? The extra material in which he knows he can improve his game, even if he still does not have the habit of doing it.
"It will be a little different for me now, knowing the position we are in," said James. "My injury has more or less affected our team. Obviously, we would have liked to have been successful during my absence, but that is not the case, and that's where we are. So I will be a little different a little earlier than I would like to be in previous years. "
But if James is still able to climb the ladder, it's fair to wonder if this is ultimately the best thing for the Lakers in the long run. James has just been injured for the first time in his professional career and, even if he says he feels better, it would seem wise for the Lakers to make sure they do not push him too far if they do not have to.
The Lakers head coach, Luke Walton, seems to agree with this idea.
"We know that our team has the best player in the world, but you also need a team to win. We expect him to direct us and other members of the team to play and help us win games. This league is too difficult to do on your own, "Walton said.
And while the Lakers rely heavily on James' greatness, they have counted less than many of his former teams. The percentage of Lakers possessions that James ends with a shot, a rotation, a help or a free-throw (his utilization rate) is 30.7%, the fifth lowest rate of his career. That should surely increase over the next few weeks, as the Lakers and him will be competing in the playoffs, but it's possible that keeping his rate of use lower until now helps him find another equipment.
The other Lakers, including Josh Hart, know that their All-Star teammate can take things to the test if necessary.
"If (LeBron) is going out on average 40-10-10, a triple-double for the rest of the season, I think he's able to do it," Hart said.
"The most important thing is that we can not be too conservative. We can not be like "OK, we have to keep some things for the playoffs". Because now we are fighting. Every game is important to access the playoffs. Every game is the most important game, and we have to keep building. "
Hart nonetheless acknowledged that the team would prefer to ask less than James if she could.
"Obviously, we would like to limit that and hope to retain some for the series," Hart said.
But until the series are guaranteed, Hart, James, Walton and all the other players of the Lakers will have to raise their level of performance. If they can not, they may not have a place in series to save their energy. The Lakers seem reasonably confident that this will not be a problem.
"It will take a complete group effort in this last step," said Walton. "We are confident and believe in the guys we have."
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