LeBron James was not at his best on Friday night as the Los Angeles Lakers took on the Memphis Grizzlies. Of course, he still finished with 23 points, six assists and a team-high nine rebounds. But for James’ standard, it was a down game.
And yet, the Lakers found a way to win a close game against the team that entered Friday tied for the best record in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies looked to be in control for a majority of the night, but when crunchtime came, the Lakers were prepared.
Despite season-long struggles in the final minutes of close games, the Lakers stayed within striking distance when a Dennis Schroder steal-and-score gave L.A. an unexpected late lead and a victory. It was perhaps one of their best wins of the season, and keeps them alive in an ever-competitive postseason picture.
James credited the Lakers for their mentality in a game when the team easily could have conceded defeat. “Stayed resilient throughout the whole game,” James said. “When we got down or got killed off the glass, we continued to stay with the game plan all the way down to the DS steal and three-point play, which also became the game-winner. We game-planned. When we do that, we give ourselves a chance to win.”
Taking a wider look at the season, James discussed how the Lakers can stay afloat with the continued absence of Anthony Davis.
“That’s how we’re going to win. At least to compete to win every night. We have to come out and grit games and play as hard as we can. Win ugly games. Sometimes we lose ugly games, but we give ourselves a chance to win ballgames. That’s all you can ask for.
“Competing is not our problem,” James continued. “I’m not worried about that. We compete every night. If you watched any of our games over the last couple months, it’s not our problem, so I’m not worried about that.”
The Lakers are now 10-9 since the injury to Davis on Dec. 16. That stretch includes wins against the Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, Sacramento Kings and now the Grizzlies. And while staying just above .500 is not necessarily what they need to be doing with a 21-25 record, doing so without an MVP caliber player is an impressive feat.
James is clearly not concerned about the team’s ability to compete, it’s just been about securing wins in the final moments. They have three relatively winnable games against the Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. Clippers and San Antonio Spurs before heading out on a brutal five-game East Coast road trip.
And as they continue to fight without Davis, L.A. is starting to become hopeful that Davis could return to the lineup as early as next Saturday against the Boston Celtics.
Darvin Ham says Lonnie Walker is closer to returning than Austin Reaves
The Lakers have also been playing for quite some time without two key role players in Lonnie Walker IV and Austin Reaves. Lakers head coach Darvin Ham spoke about the two recently, saying that both will be reevaluated in the next week, but that Walker is likely closer to a return than Reaves.
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