The Los Angeles Lakers added another trophy to their overflowing inventory, LeBron James added another award to his padded resume and all is right with the world. After Shohei Ohtani joined the Dodgers, the City of Champions had even more reason to celebrate Saturday when the Lakers ran away with the NBA’s first In-Season Tournament title. HBO won’t make a series out of the LeBron-AD era, but just like the bubble title in 2020, we can’t discount what LA has accomplished just to pit James against some existential BOK debate. The playoffs are a battle of endurance. The IST is the NBA’s early bird special and it’s only after James was named his first MVP on the verge of turning 39.
LeBron is a single star that is made up of time. Rightfully so, Rob Pelinka has equipped himself with an antediluvian team that suits James like your pops rocking the dated styles he rocked in the late 20th century. It might make you cry, but it’s practical. Next to James is Anthony Davis, a two-way four who shoots long-twos at a high rate. Davis has the shot profile of Kevin Garnett, despite Darvin Ham’s wishes. Before the season, Ham stated his pipe dream of Davis shooting six triples a night. Instead, Davis attempted three triples in seven IST games and missed all three. Overall, he is shooting 23 percent from deep this season. while posting his fewest triple-doubles per contest since 2015, Davis’ third year in the league.
In an era of streaming offenses that are throwing it out of the cloud, the Lakers are playing brick-and-mortar Blockbuster basketball. This was seen in the In-Season Tournament final. Faced with a track and field team on the hardwood, Los Angeles countered with power basketball. Except Davis provided a wall between the Pacers and the rim and let the Lakers pull away. One night after a 15-point performance against New Orleans, Davis had 41 points, 20 boards and four blocks against an undersized Pacers roster.
As James approached his 40s, he had to learn to pace himself. The Indiana Pacers should have been the one team that wore him down by executing at an uncomfortable pace. Instead, James used that old man’s strength to bully his way through the Pacers. True to form, the Pacers shot 41 threes. Los Angeles attempted 13 and made only two.
The bread and butter of most modern offenses are the corner 3 and catch-and-shoot jumpers. This season, the Lakers are 29th in field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot threes and were on pace to be after the first month and a half of the season one of the worst corner 3 shooting teams in modern history. Only three teams, the Pistons, Hornets and Magic, attempt three-pointers less often than the Lakers. Two of those teams are lottery winners. While the Magic are a surprise in the East, they are also a middle-of-the-pack team that will be ecstatic just to reach the postseason. Los Angeles has higher aspirations.
The Lakers may play offense as they study videotape on VHS and tout the virtues of physical copies, but you can’t deny the results. Defensively, they are full of tall, jumbo guards, streak-shooting 3-and-D forwards and a ball-handling dynamo that has already flown Los Angeles to an NBA title.
Every year we imagine is James’ last call for championship champagne. After the Lakers were swept by the Denver Nuggets, they spent the entire offseason haunted by the disrespect they felt. Saturday’s victory is not yet a confirmation. The Nuggets are still the defending champions, but this is another log in the fire. The Lakers are not delusional after all. Their in-season title propels them forward with more legitimacy.
Los Angeles went 7-0 in the IST, but it’s just a series of seven games played over a month. Health will always be the X-Factor for any contender, but especially for LA Davis is constantly on the verge of sending tremors through the city when he goes to the locker room with an injury. Defensively, he looked like a Defensive Player of the Year front-runner, but his offensive output declined. At 30, he will have to carry a bigger load, especially against Nikola Jokic in April or May. We now know that James can find his chi amid the 32-team In-Season Tournament rush, but he and Davis can’t afford to pick their spots in a playoff marathon when the Nuggets and Suns are presumably healthy and every time at night during the third round of a seven-game series marathon.
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