It was clear that LeBron James wanted to keep things close to the vest. As he addressed the media after a Game 4 loss to the Phoenix Suns that saw him lose his co-star, Anthony Davis, to what the Lakers are currently saying is a groin strain, James batted nearly every question away with practiced precision, giving a short answer or coachspeak cliche and keeping it moving.
How will his role change if the series moves forward without Davis?
What will it take for the Lakers to get back on track offensively?
“Sometimes it just comes down to knocking down shots.”
Does his previous groin tear in 2018 affect his optimism about how quickly Davis can get back?
“I don’t know the severity of his injury, and until we know, I’m not gonna comment.”
But there was one topic James did feel comfortable discussing. When asked if he could still carry this team to victory without Davis at 36 years old, he lapsed into more cliches about how he wants to put the Lakers into a position to be successful, but by the end of his answer left no doubt that he feels he can still singlehandedly will them to said success if necessary.
The man who famously said these Lakers are “built different” still feels like he is, too.
“These shoulders were built for a reason,” James said. “If it takes me putting some more on top of them, so be it. Win, lose or draw, I’m ready for the challenge.”
It’s no surprise James is confident. He’s been left undermanned before, and that hasn’t always been a positive for his opponents, something head coach Frank Vogel volunteered during his own postgame session with the press. And it’s Vogel’s past as a James opponent that has given him optimism the Lakers can be set up for success, even if Davis misses time.
“You know, when I competed against the Miami Heat and either (Dwyane) Wade or (Chris) Bosh was out, and there were more touches for LeBron, that wasn’t always necessarily a good thing for my Pacers teams,” Vogel said.
This isn’t that version of LeBron, something even LeBron himself willingly admits. He’s 36 years old now, and around two years removed from a groin injury that he volunteered that he’s never been quite the same since sustaining.
But while he continues to feel the toll of fighting a multi-front war against Father Time, the remaining discomfort from the high ankle sprain that sidelined him for nine weeks this season and the circumstances of the shortest turnaround in NBA history, James made it clear he still thinks like he can get the job done when he was asked if he could draw on past experiences where he’s been undermanned, like those games against the Pacers that Vogel mentioned.
“Well, I mean, the best teacher in life is experience. So me personally? I look forward to the challenge. However the hand is dealt, I’ll be ready to play it,” James said.
If that’s the case, that’s good news. Because James and the Lakers are running short on a lot right now. Stars. Healthy players. Chances to end this series. But if there’s one thing he has in abundance, it’s experience. And if he can use it to carry this team to victory in Game 5, then the Lakers will have a little more time to replenish their reserves of everything else they’re missing.