LeBron James showed there is plenty left in the tank as the Los Angeles Lakers’ star has found yet another gear while remaining steadfast in his mission to pull the team out of a two-week slide.
James is coming off a season-best 43 points Friday as the Lakers won for just the second time in eight games. He has vowed to remain in overdrive ahead of a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
In leading a 139-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, James was 16 of 26 from the field and made 5 of 10 3-point attempts. He added 14 rebounds for good measure while looking as fresh as ever in his 19th season. The performance came a day after his 37th birthday.
“I still take pride in being efficient,” said James, who has averaged 36 points in the seven games since Anthony Davis has been out with a knee injury. “I’m not a guy that just goes out and just sees if I can jack a bunch of shots.”
James became the oldest player to score at least 40 points with at least 10 rebounds since Michael Jordan in 2003. And while James insisted afterward that he was willing to continue the heavy lifting, he might not have to much longer.
Decimated by Davis’ injury and a number of COVID-19 absences, key players have started to make their return.
Also returning was head coach Frank Vogel, who was finally back Friday after missing six games. Vogel tested positive for COVID-19 and said he “got pretty sick” while he was away.
Austin Reaves, Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore returned from COVID-19 protocol Friday and combined for 16 points. All three are key to how Los Angeles wants to play defensively.
The Lakers would appear to need all the help they can get to defeat the Timberwolves. Their rough eight-game stretch started Dec. 17 with a 110-92 defeat at Minnesota, in a game when Davis left in the third quarter with his knee injury and hasn’t played since.
The Wolves actually have two victories over the Lakers this season, also beating them 107-83 at Los Angeles on Nov. 12. Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 28.5 points in the two victories, but is out in COVID-19 protocol, along with guards McKinley Wright IV and D’Angelo Russell.
Minnesota has lost four of its last five games during its COVID-19 issues. Anthony Edwards returned from a six-game absence in a 120-108 defeat at Utah on Friday to score 26 points. Jarred Vanderbilt also returned Friday, while Patrick Beverley and Naz Reid are two games into their return.
The additional return of Towns and Russell could help the Wolves to get back to being the team that delivered a four-game winning streak earlier this month and won seven of eight in November. A weary head coach Chris Finch can see hope on the horizon.
“In the NBA, one month rolls on into the next month … (and) as far as I’m concerned, we’re in the never-ending COVID month,” Finch said as the calendar flipped to January. “We’ve just got to get out of this, try to get healthy and everyone back and find our rhythm at that point. But guys are slowly coming back.”
–Field Level Media