No one knew this for sure at the time, but when LeBron James crumpled to the floor on Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors last season, it was the death knell for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The team would ultimately go on to win that game without James, and it wasn’t known right away that he’d seriously injured his groin, but his ensuing weeks-long absence — and the way he was hampered by the injury even upon his return before being shut down for the year — was the biggest factor in the Lakers’ 2018-19 campaign flaming out the way it did.
With those kinds of memories looming, it’s no wonder that James admitted to reporters after the Lakers beat the Warriors in their preseason opener that he was a little worried headed into the game (via the Lakers’ official Twitter account):
“I had some jitters tonight. Some butterflies in my stomach. Just off of straight-up excitement and also a little bit of nervousness too, because I got hurt in the Bay when I was at full strength.”
That’s just human nature, as anyone would be nervous their first time going back to do the exact activity they injured themselves doing, in the same location no less. It’s one thing to return to the basketball court to end last season, and to spend all summer practicing, but coming back to the exact scene of the incident would be nerve-wracking for anyone, and it’s cool that we as a society are at a place where it’s no longer taboo for one of the biggest stars in the NBA to admit it.
The thing is... there was also no way to tell he was nervous in any way just by watching James play. He finished the game with 15 points and 8 assists, and executed with the cool, calm demeanor of someone doing routine house chores as the Lakers jumped all over the Warriors from the start of the game and never looked back.
Amazing how casually LeBron delivers some of these pocket passes. Dude's out here walking his dog. pic.twitter.com/kNZaYjX56p— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) October 6, 2019
After the win, James admitted it was great to just get this game out of the way, and that he thinks the team got better as a result of the exhibition contest:
“It’s great to get back out there and have a lot of fun. I didn’t even think about it being a preseason game, I thought about it being a game, and how we can get better. I didn’t take it lightly because it was a preseason game. I think none of us did, and I think we got better tonight.”
In the end, that’s the best result the Lakers could have hope for from a preseason game, too. James got to excise the demons of his last injury in the Bay Area before the games there start to count again, the team improved, and they got a win in the process. That’s not a bad note to end their stateside start to training camp on before heading to China to continue the preseason.
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