James said, “My level of intensity has to be [high], unfortunately for me, because I don’t like to do it at such an early time.”
The Lakers are currently a game under .500 with 25 regular season games remaining and face a tough task to even make the playoffs. James has not been involved in a late-season race to make the playoffs since 2005. He has made 13 consecutive postseasons and appeared in eight straight finals. This is almost alien territory.
James added, “I’m all about being uncomfortable. I love being uncomfortable. I fall in love with being uncomfortable. This is another uncomfortable thing for me, and I love it.”
Unsurprisingly for one of the NBA’s greatest ever players, James fancies the Lakers’ chances if they can make the playoffs.
“Yeah, I mean if I can get to the postseason, whatever team I got, I feel like we’ve got a good chance,” he said.
That’s perhaps the most important point. If, and it’s a big if right now, the Lakers can make the playoffs, they will be feared. Any LeBron James team is scary, even in a strong Western Conference.
It’s easy to get distracted by potential summer arrivals, but the present is everything for James. He is in his mid-thirties. The Finals streak will end, though that does not make this a wasted season. The goalposts have moved as he’s swapped Ohio for California – making the playoffs would be a major achievement from this position.
Betting against James is foolish. What he did last season – playing in all 82 games and taking that Cavaliers team to the Finals – was remarkable. At some point, though, he will tire if he has to go into full superhero mode from now on.
The Lakers’ schedule is challenging, and there’s a deficit to make up. How much energy he has to carry this team is unknown. We saw the physical strain he went through in the 2018 postseason.
Getting them to the playoffs would be something. Winning a series, or maybe even two, would be a notable achievement considering the recent lows of the Pacers thrashing and Atlanta loss.
Luke Walton’s job is on the line. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball might not get another season alongside James. These 25 games are huge in their respective careers. For James, it is simply ‘activating’ playoff mode earlier.
We all know what Playoff LeBron can do. We saw it with Cleveland last season. We haven’t seen that James on this Lakers team yet.
The Lakers were a top four team in the West before James’ groin injury on Christmas Day. Their ceiling, due to injuries and inconsistency, is still unknown. With James in Playoff ModeTM, we are about to find out just how good this Lakers team can be.