When LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers during the summer of 2018, many around the NBA expected an immediate return to glory for the 16-time champions. The inaugural year of the James-led Lakers didn’t go according to plan, however.
The front office flipped the switch ahead of the James’ second season in L.A., going all-in by parting with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and multiple draft picks in a trade to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.
The franchise hasn’t made a postseason appearance since 2013 but is less than one week out from making their return, as the top seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers last were the No. 1 team in West during the 2009-10 season.
The Lakers are yet to learn their opponent for the first round, and James, a 17-year veteran and three-time champion, said that’s a factor in the team not being in ‘playoff mode.’
“There’s a different type of preparation that goes into a playoff game. You spend hours and hours on teams, because you know you’re going to be locked in with them at least for four games,” James explained.
“Throughout a regular season or these eight games, you really have maybe a day, maybe not even a full day, to lock in on a team and then you start preparing for the next team. Me personally, as far as mentally, I’m not in playoff mode. Physically, I’m getting there.
“I feel like my legs have gotten better and better, my game has improved more and more, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the bubble. But as far as the mental side of it, I’m not there and our team isn’t. But we will be.
“It’s a different type of mindset you have to be in, but you don’t want to jump into before you actually get there because it takes a lot of energy and effort.”
Although James noted the Lakers haven’t fully shifted to a playoff mentality, he is confident the team is already prepared in some regard. “Once we know who we’re playing, you start to lock in on your opponent,” he added.
“But you build good habits along the way, and we have good habits. So we are ready for the playoffs. If the playoffs started [Tuesday], we’d be ready for it. As far as the mental side, you can’t really lock in on your opponent until you know your opponent, so there’s another level to playoff basketball.
“We’ve worked our habits throughout the whole season, and we’ve prepared ourselves for the playoffs. We’ll be ready for it when it comes.”
James gearing up for playoff return
When the NBA suspended operation on March 11, James’ body had to take a step back and eventually cooled down during a four-month layoff. Especially for older players, obtaining a rhythm takes time.
“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.”
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