The Los Angeles Lakers won on Sunday night, beating the Sacramento Kings 111-106. While that result couldn’t change the Lakers’ postseason fate — they’re officially out of the 2019 mix — going through the motions was not an option for LeBron James.
The Lakers star netted a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) to power the victory and told Spectrum SportsNet after the win that doing anything less than that would be unacceptable.
.@LakersReporter chats with @KingJames after racking up a triple-double in tonight's win over Sacramento. pic.twitter.com/Jl1OPez3UF
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) March 25, 2019
“I would never cheat myself,” James said. “I know we’re out the playoff race, but if I’m on the court, I’m going to play how I play, and I play to win. So, I never will cheat the game. There’s such a thing called ‘game gods.’ And they’re watching no matter what you’re doing, and it’s our obligation to go out and be a professional, and that’s what I’m about.
“It’s been a long season and it’s not gone the way we would like it, obviously. Our fans are still showing up. So it’s our obligation to go out and show them what we do in practice and in film sessions and hopefully it results in wins.”
The Lakers snapped a five-game losing streak, but their last loss — a 111-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday — officially eliminated them from the playoff chase. To James, though, he owed it to the fans to give them his best whenever it is possible.
“If I’m on the floor, I’ve got to try to play as hard as I can or do something to affect the game and not cheat the game,” said James, who had 12 points and three assists in the fourth quarter. “So if I’m out on the floor, if I’m in uniform, then I’ve got to try to make things happen.
“Not saying I’m going to make every shot, not saying I’m going to make every play or not have any turnovers. But just try to make an impact on the game and, like I said, I was on the floor tonight, and I was able to make a couple plays to help make our team win.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters after Sunday’s game that even in a lost season such as this, he has stressed to his players the good fortune they all have by being in the NBA.
“I’ve talked to the team about it a lot, as far as it being an honor and a privilege to play in this league, and we’re coaching in this league, for all of us,” Walton said. “This game of basketball has allowed us to have incredible opportunities in life. So, that’s been more the message to the group.
“I’ve talked to ‘Bron sporadically throughout the season. But the thing — he knows it. And I think he takes it very serious. He’s been the face of the NBA for however many years now. He’s aware of that, and I think he takes that responsibility, he takes it very seriously.”
In a post on his Instagram, James made it clear to Lakers fans he doesn’t plan on the team’s playoff absence being a regular occurrence on his watch going forward. He wrote: “Believe me! Promise #LakerNation the spell won’t last much longer! I swear. The marathon continues!”
Per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, James is on a suggested 32-minute guideline after his right knee swelled up from slipping on the floor in Friday’s final possession vs. the Nets. James played 35 minutes on Sunday and was asked if respecting the basketball gods will factor into how much he plays in the Lakers’ final nine games of 2018-19.
“It doesn’t factor into that; it factors in when I’m on the floor,” James said. “I’ve got to continue to see how my body feels when I’m on the floor. Like I said, I didn’t feel great today, but I felt good enough to go out there, and I just trusted myself and trusted my decision.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.