The Lakers were on the verge of another comeback. After stunning the Trail Blazers on Sunday, the Lakers had cut a 23-point halftime deficit down to 10 midway through the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Clippers.
LeBron James was on fire. The Crypto.com Arena crowd could feel the momentum shifting. And then… a back-breaking turnover.
With a chance to get the Clippers’ lead to single digits, Lakers guard Russell Westbrook threw a poor inbounds pass toward Dennis Schroder. After Clippers forward Paul George deflected the pass, Schroder recovered the ball, but he threw it directly to Kawhi Leonard, who finished through contact and pumped the brakes on a Lakers rally.
PG and Kawhi putting on the clamps 🔒🔥 pic.twitter.com/ltgCE7njs2
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 25, 2023
That sparked an 8-0 Clippers run, essentially ending the game. Lakers coach Darvin Ham waved the white flag at the next timeout break, and James’ exasperation was visible.
As Westbrook and Schroder had an animated conversation about what went wrong, James could be seen sitting on the bench and staring down at the floor.
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 25, 2023
With 46 points in the 133-115 loss, James became the first player in NBA history to score 40 or more points in a game against every team in the league. But the four-time MVP has made it clear that he isn’t interested in putting up big numbers for a bad or mediocre team.
During his postgame media availability, James mostly offered curt replies to questions, and one particular response stood out. Here’s what happened when James was asked about general manager Rob Pelinka’s comments regarding the Lakers’ trade deadline strategy.
Reporter: LeBron, Rob was speaking pregame about trade deadline, and he was saying, “If there’s an opportunity to get all the way at the end and win a championship, there’s no resource we’ll hold on to if we feel like that’s there. But, at the same time, the completely unwise thing to do would be to shoot a bullet early and not have it later.” How does that analysis, philosophy sit with you pertaining to the trade deadline?
James: How does it sit with you? He said it to you guys. He was talking to you. He wasn’t talking to us. Rob’s gonna do his job. That’s his job. My job is to be on the floor and make sure my guys in the locker room are ready to go.
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 25, 2023
James’ responses and general demeanor were not the product of just the loss to the Clippers or one pivotal turnover.
After the Lakers finished 33-49 and missed the Play-In Tournament in 2021-22, James doesn’t want to go down that road again. His team is still in the fight, but the Lakers are four games under .500 more than halfway through the 2022-23 campaign.
He didn’t need to say anything about the trade deadline — his play has been loud enough. He is now averaging 30.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game, and he has outscored the rest of the Lakers’ starters in two of his last four games. He shouldn’t have to go full Chris Morris and write “Trade the picks, please” on his shoes for Pelinka to get the message.
There is some hope on the horizon. The Lakers recently acquired Rui Hachimura in a trade with the Wizards, and Anthony Davis is ready to make his return. Perhaps they will be enough to help the Lakers make a playoff push.
Los Angeles will likely need more, though, and that means another move could — or, in James’ eyes, should — be coming. Otherwise, the immediate future may be filled with a familiar scene: James discussing a new individual record after a loss.
“Just over the last few years, the last couple years since we won the championship, just a lot of accomplishments have been happening in losing efforts,” James said. “So, it’s been very kind of difficult to kind of even digest some of my own accomplishments because I’m not one to celebrate losses.”