On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers will begin their quest for their first NBA playoff berth in six years. Hoping to lead them there is LeBron James, who hasn’t missed the postseason in 13 years.
However, James will come back from the All-Star break in somewhat uncharted territory. The Lakers are currently three games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and a game back from having a .500 record. James hasn’t had a sub .500 record at the All-Star break since his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004. They didn’t make the playoffs that year.
As a result, James said that he might have to turn up the intensity a little sooner than he would prefer to this year.
“It’s been a while. It’s been quite a while for me since I’ve been under .500 going into the All-Star break. I don’t remember the last time. So my level of intensity — for me unfortunately because I don’t like to do it at such an early time — has been activated, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do,” James said after practice on Wednesday.
James playing harder after the All-Star break is nothing new, though.
Last year before the All-Star break, James was averaging 26.5 points, 8.9 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game. After the break, he came back and averaged 29.4 points, the second-most in the NBA, to go along with 9.5 assists and 9.8 rebounds per game.
James is technically averaging more points per game (26.8) than he was this time last year, but in fewer games played and in a tougher conference. The Cavaliers were also eight games above .500 and seeded third in the Eastern Conference.
Suffice to say, this year will be a different challenge for him, but one that he says he relishes.
“I don’t fear nothing. I don’t fear,” James said, repeating “I don’t fear” once more for emphasis. “I’m all about being uncomfortable. I fall in love with being uncomfortable, so this is another uncomfortable thing for me and I love it.”
But why would he enjoy being uncomfortable, you ask?
“Why not?,” James continued. “I enjoy being uncomfortable. I enjoy being counted out. I enjoy everything. I mean, I’m an African-American kid from Akron, Ohio from a single-parent household, so playing basketball is nothing compared to how I made it out.
“This is just basketball and I know I’m ready for the challenge.”
If James and the Lakers go on a run and make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine climbing any higher than the seventh seed in the standings, meaning they’d have to face the Denver Nuggets or Golden State Warriors in the first round.
To some, that might seem like the Lakers are signing their own death certificate, but James is confident he can go toe-to-toe with any team in a seven game series, regardless of who his supporting cast is.
”If I can get into the postseason, whatever team I got, I feel like we’ve got a good chance. Obviously you want to be playing at a high level going into the postseason and try to ride that wave, so we’re looking forward to seeing how well we can play and trying to get into the playoffs, and ride the momentum of how we played to get there,” James said.
The Lakers’ road to the playoffs is long and windy, but it sounds like James is ready for whatever comes his way. Hopefully the rest of the team is just as motivated to prove that they can make some noise in the wild, wild Western Conference.