In his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James injured his groin in a Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors. By the time he returned, the Lakers had fallen from fourth place in the Western Conference to out of the playoff race, and James never returned to form.
This year hasn’t followed a similar script. When the NBA suspended operations on March 11, James was inching closer to a fifth MVP, only slightly behind reigning winner Giannis Antetokounmpo. James was playing some of his best basketball in a Laker uniform and led his team to wins over the Bucks and L.A. Clippers in back-to-back games.
James has only missed a handful of games this season, leading the Lakers to the top record in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, the shutdown brought a halt to his momentum, and the 17-year veteran said he needed more time to get into top shape.
“It’s like I’m restarting the engine,” James recently said. “My body was wondering what was going on because I was right there with my body starting to get to fifth, sixth, and seventh gear for the playoffs. And then it was just complete shutdown. I’m kind of just getting my body back up.”
The Lakers won two out of their scrimmages in Orlando, only to struggle through seeding games. “The preseason games helped, and these eight regular-season games we have will also help on getting my body to where I need to get it going into the playoffs,” James said.
“I’ll be very smart with listening to my body. Our coaching staff and training staff have always been smart and want to have open dialogue with me, so I pay attention to that. Understanding it’s still a marathon with these next eight games, and then we get to the sprint once the playoffs start.
“I have to be very real with myself, very real with the coaching staff and training staff if I have anything that’s going on from a physical standpoint. I’ve done a good job of just trying to keep myself in the best possible shape during the quarantine at home.”
James and the Lakers put together one of their better performances against the Denver Nuggets on Monday. He attributed some of that to becoming more comfortable with the bubble environment and his conditioning improving.
Caruso locked in on restart, but misses usual NBA atmosphere
The NBA has done well to create a suitable environment for games inside the bubble, but the lack of fans is noticeable for players and fans alike.
“I miss the atmosphere of it, more than anything,” said Lakers guard Alex Caruso. “Like I said, noticing the faces until I subbed out, I’m usually pretty locked in on the game. I’m a competitive guy, that’s how I play the game.
“Whatever I need to do to focus on winning, that’s what I’m doing. I think if anything, I just miss the atmosphere. You miss the home crowd cheering after a steal, an and-1, or made three, or you miss the quiet celebration of only hearing your team chant or yell whenever you get an and-1 on the road.
“Stuff like that, it’s a different game, but at the same time it’s kind of the same.”
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