LeBron James has already beaten the Golden State Warriors three times in a row. He’s simply never been on this side of one before with the Lakers.
James has rarely entered a postseason with the most talented roster, despite being the best player in the NBA for most of the past two decades. From confronting Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs’ tradition to a stalwart Heroes run that highlighted Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and company, James has frequently been compelled to battle beyond his weight class, with the 2007, 2015 and 2018 Finals filling in as great representations.
D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Mo Bamba were added to the Lakers’ roster at the trade deadline, making them a legitimate title contender after fighting just to make the play-in tournament weeks earlier.
For James, who hasn’t had to put up his previous eye-popping scoring numbers for his team to win, this is new territory.
James has not scored more than 28 points in any of his 10 playoff games, averaging just 22.6 points per game. Contrast this with 2018, his last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which James found the middle value of 34.0 a night north of a 22-game hurry to the Finals. James had 12 games where he scored 30 or more points, eight games where he scored at least 40 points, and even a 51-point masterpiece against Golden State in Game 1 of the Finals, which he lost.
Lakers Gearing Up For WCF vs Nuggets
With his herculean efforts, James overcame subpar rosters for years, but different players now seem to step up almost every night to help the 38-year-old.
The Lakers are getting big performances from the entire rotation on any given night, whether it’s D’Angelo Russell scoring 31 points in Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies, Austin Reaves taking over primarily ball-handling duties for periods of time, Hachimura getting hot from deep, or Walker scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 against Golden State.
On the other hand, L.A.’s lack of a reliable third player could backfire. Anthony Davis’ 19 points in the first half versus just four in the second half in Game 4 show that Davis can disappear for periods of time.
Even though James has been the Laker with the most consistency, relying on role players, especially those with little postseason experience, could backfire.
The other piece of this situation is who the Lakers really need to go through to come out on top for the 2023 championship.
James won’t have to go through the Warriors or Spurs dynasty like he did in the past. The Nuggets, who the Lakers will play in the WCF, appear to be the most complete team overall, but the Lakers can attack any team that has a noticeable weakness.
Lakers Came Far…Really Far
It’s easy to forget that the Lakers started the season with a backcourt of Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook and went 2-10. Presently, the beginning five of Russell, Reaves, James, Davis, and Vanderbilt has turned into their variant of a demise setup, despite the fact that we’ve seen what players like Hachimura, Walker, and Dennis Schröder can do off the seat too. Lead trainer Darvin Ham might in fact go further assuming that he needs to, cleaning off any semblance of Beasley, Bamba, and Troy Earthy colored Jr. on a case-by-case basis.
James now stands a real chance of winning his fifth NBA championship, something that once seemed impossible.
To this point, these Lakers are deep, talented, and unafraid of the moment. The Lakers have a great chance of winning their 18th championship overall if Davis and Russell continue to put in consistent performances while supporting players continue to step up.
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