With a statement win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers clinched their first NBA playoff berth since the 2012-13 season. To give some context to just how long ago that was, Anthony Davis was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft that season, and Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring.
Suffice to say, it’s been a really, really long time. One of the few things that hasn’t changed over the last seven years, though, is how good LeBron James is.
Even at the age of 35, James is capable of leading his team to a postseason berth, and that’s exactly what he did with his performance against the Bucks on Friday, tallying 37 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. James was expected to end the Lakers’ postseason drought when he signed last season, but due to a combination of injuries, poor roster management and locker room drama, he didn’t.
After Friday’s game, James talked about what it means for him to lead the Lakers back to the playoffs after falling short last season.
“I came here to put this team, this franchise back where they needed to be,” James said. “The league is not what it is if the Lakers are not winning. That was one of my responsibilities and my goals when I came here last year. When I wasn’t able to fulfill that, it hurt me in my heart to go down on Dec. 25 with the groin injury that I had. Knock on wood.”
James said he made a point to congratulate Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso on making the playoffs for the first time in their young careers after the game. Caruso’s been with the Lakers as long as James has, while Kuzma’s been in Los Angeles for three years, which is tied for the longest stint on the team with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Kuzma, the last man standing from the Lakers’ rebuilding years, said he’s “super excited” to get the opportunity to play in the postseason after two sub-40-win seasons in Los Angeles.
“I’ve been here for three years and my first two years was kind of rough,” Kuzma said. “A lot of L’s and a lot of development. The organization has done a great job of bringing Anthony and a bunch of other guys to allow us to compete for the playoffs. It’s exciting.”
Caruso and Kuzma got a little taste of what a playoff game might feel like on Friday, and Caruso said he’s ready for all of it.
“To be honest, I’m not worried about the atmosphere of the playoffs, because for me that’s kind of how I play every game. So for me, that’s just going out there and doing what I do,” Caruso said.
Anthony Davis will be playing for a first of his own this season.
Davis has almost every accolade a player could dream of at the age of 26, and he’s played in the postseason before, but he still hasn’t won an NBA championship. If he succeeds this season, he’ll become the fourth player from his draft class to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The other three — Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green — all won a championship with the Golden State Warriors.
So, while Davis is happy for his teammates and everything they’ve been able to accomplish together this season, he knows the job isn’t done.
“It means a lot,” Davis said. “We are one step closer to our goal. It’s definitely a huge accomplishment for us. For guys like Kuz, AC to get into the playoffs for the first time.
“But we’ve still got a long way to go, still got a lot to work on and still got a lot to get better at.”
The Lakers will have another chance to get better on Sunday, when they’ll take on the LA Clippers, the only team that’s beaten them twice this season. Tip-off is at 12:30 p.m on ABC.