LeBron James is going to take some plays off. Sure, he’ll still give the Lakers an efficient 28/9/8, but there are going to be possessions on the defensive end where he doesn’t even pretend to care, especially in October. That’s part of the deal with an older superstar.
In exchange, the Lakers were supposed to be getting a closer who could assert his will down the stretch of close games, leading them to victory. It hasn’t worked out that way so far in the 2018-19 season, with the Lakers winning just one of their six competitive contests, as Jimmy Butler, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, and Damian Lillard finished them off.
Let’s be clear here. LeBron hasn’t been bad in the clutch, he just hasn’t been LeBron. My (perhaps premature) expectation for him during the regular season was that he was going to coast for most of the first 46 minutes, picking his spots and producing with his mental mastery of the game rather than physical exertion. Then he could tap into his full potential for the final two minutes to put the game into the win column.
The reality is that his listless possessions have bled into the most critical moments of the game, where he often settles for difficult jumpers without attempting to draw a second defender and drifts off of his man on defense, leaving them with an open 3-pointer.
Butler, Harden, DeRozan, and Lillard are some of the best players in the game, but they don’t compare with LeBron James when he’s fully engaged. The Lakers need that guy to show up sooner rather than later.