Anthony Davis: Locked In LeBron James Raises Lakers’ Defensive Ceiling
Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Lakers
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are prepping for their third appearance in the NBA Play-In Tournament, once again fighting for the No. 7 seed but this time against the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the Lakers just defeated the Pelicans with ease in the regular season finale on Sunday, and are hopeful to repeat that effort on Tuesday night in New Orleans.

The Pelicans managed 108 points on Sunday, nine points below the Lakers season average for points allowed per game with 117.4. This also included a 31-point fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach for the Pelicans. And that defensive success could stem from the five steals and one block that James collected over the course of his 38 minutes, guarding Zion Williamson effectively for a majority of that.

It’s well known that James preserves some energy on the defensive end during the early part of games and of regular seasons. But when the games get tight and wins become necessary, James has a way of turning it on defensively and becoming the elite defender he was consistently during his prime. Davis discussed this and how it improves L.A.’s chances, via Spectrum SportsNet:

“Obviously this time of the year, he wants the tough matchups, he locks in defensively. Even early in the game, we got on Rui and I think the score was like 6-2. It’s just that time of the year where we’re all doing everything we can to get wins. Obviously when he’s defending like that, it just makes our team so much better defensively and gives our guards and the rest of our guys a lot of confidence on the ball. It gives us a lot of confidence in our schemes to do certain things that we probably wouldn’t do, but when he’s ball-hawking, getting steals, blocking shot, rebounding, doing all the talking and things that he always does, it makes our defense a lot tougher to score on.”

The Lakers need James’ defensive intensity to be high in order for L.A. to have a shot of making it through the Play-In Tournament and having a chance against one of the top seeds in the Western Conference. And the 21-year superstar has a way of delivering that intensity when it’s most needed.

LeBron James feels better physically now vs. last season

LeBron James dealt with a serious foot injury most of last season and managed to help the Lakers make a deep postseason run in spite of it. One year later, now in his 21st NBA season and set to head into the Play-In Tournament, LeBron is in a better spot physically.

In the final stretch of the season, James has been outstanding, averaging 27.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.8 assists in the last 10 games while shooting 61.4% from the field and 45.5% from 3-point range. In a season where some wondered if LeBron would be able to hold up for the whole year, he appeared in 71 games and is likely to make yet another All-NBA team.

But most importantly for both James and the Lakers, he is feeling much better going into the postseason than he did at this time last year.

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