Until the fourth quarter on Friday night, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was having a relatively quiet offensive game. While he finished with 32 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists, his scoring impact wasn’t felt until the final frame, when he had 17 points in just under 10 minutes of action.
Where he had a more complete game was the defensive end. Starting at center, James was able to act as a free safety on defense, going wherever the action dictated. Doing that allowed him to secure an impressive four steals and three blocks on the night.
The three blocks are great as always, but it’s the steals that were the story of the game. His four takeaways moved him to No. 10 all-time for steals in NBA history. He moved past Alvin Robertson and is now 50 steals behind Hakeem Olajuwon for No. 9.
James was asked after the game if the move to the center position has helped him gather more steals and blocks.
“No. I’ve gotten steals and blocks at every position during my career so no,” James said. “I just feel really good, I’m trying to be proactive and not reactive in a lot of the defensive coverages.
“I watch a lot of film on the teams that we’re playing and try to put myself in position where I’m early in a lot of situations and I’ve always had decent hands when it comes to defensively, getting steals or getting strips or getting blocks or things of that nature. But just trying to help my teammates out the best way I can.”
While switching to be a near full-time center hasn’t helped him force more turnovers than usual, according to James, it has helped open things up offensively as designed.
“I guess with me at the five it gives our offense some more space, I guess. I have the ability to pick-and-roll, I have the ability to pick-and-pop, I have the ability to when I set a pick-and-roll, I have the ability to get the ball and make plays out of that.”
“Not just for myself, but for my teammates. Our offense is flowing pretty well with me at that position. So like I said, it’s good to know that we have something that we know we can go to throughout the course of a season, throughout the course of a game.”
It’s been apparent how much impact James has had at the center position. The Lakers have gone with small-ball in five of their last six games. In those games, the Lakers are 5-0, have scored an average of 127 points per game, and have won by an average margin of 14.2 points.
While it may not be the reason James quickly moved up to No. 10 on the all-time steals list, it has certainly breathed new life into the Lakers’ nightly attack.
James credits health for recent stretch of wins
While stylistic changes can absolutely be credited for the Lakers’ recent winning ways, James believes the answer is even simpler than that. He pointed towards the increased health of the roster after getting a majority of their players back from injuries and health and safety protocols.
“I think it’s just giving us some stability,” said of what having players healthy has meant. “When you know guys are in the lineups, you know the rotations are gonna be crisp, everybody kind of knows when they’re going in, when they’re getting subbed out, you know who’s on the floor and how you’re playing with that particular group.”
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