The Los Angeles Lakers don’t resume their season until Friday, a day or two later than most clubs, and that was a very smart move by the NBA schedule-makers.
For the Lakers, and for the NBA, these few days are critical.
This is LeBron James’ time to recharge.
Since the NBA’s restart bubble that saved last season opened last July, no player has logged more minutes, scored more points, handed out more assists, made more shots, taken more shots or finished off more fast breaks than James.
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He doesn’t mind the workload, even though he’s 36 and the fourth-oldest player to appear in a game so far this season behind only Miami’s Andre Iguodala, Portland’s Carmelo Anthony and New Orleans’ JJ Redick. And he’s still elite, still an MVP candidate, still in the eyes of many the best player in the world. But even the best need rest, and that time is now.
“Is it enough time? I’ll take any time, obviously,” James said. “So, I’ll take full advantage of the time that we have. Is it enough time? No, it’s never enough time, but we’re not on the side of time. I’m not on the side of time. I’ll take full advantage of what I have and be OK with it.”
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is the two-time reigning MVP and now the reigning All-Star MVP, Washington’s Bradley Beal is leading the league in scoring, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are back in the playoff mix, the Utah Jazz have the league’s best record to this point and the Brooklyn Nets have added Blake Griffin to their Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
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They’re all creating buzz. And so are others.
But James is still unquestionably the one who carries the biggest part of the NBA flag. His jersey remains the most popular in terms of sales, the Lakers lead the league with 17 national television appearances to this point and they draw the best national ratings. People might watch because they love him. People might watch because they hate him. Either way, people watch.
Other players — even other elite players — do as well.
“It’s interesting to me how LeBron is still in one of the best shapes of his life and being the best player in the world and still be in Year 18,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s really interesting. I want to know how.”
He’s not kidding. Antetokounmpo said at All-Star Sunday in Atlanta that he wants to pick James’ brain and learn whatever the four-time MVP is willing to share.
“He’s been consistent for 18 years,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s always there. He’s always showing up. He’s unbelievable. He obviously gets credit but I think we’ve got to give him even more credit. Doing it for 18 years, guys, that’s hard.”
There were any number of players who weren’t thrilled with the notion that the NBA had an All-Star Game during a pandemic and during an already jam-packed season. But once again, it seemed all about James — as if he was the only one who voiced his displeasure.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver didn’t mind. He was just thrilled James was part of All-Star events.
“It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to say to LeBron that you should speak out on issues that are important to you, but not ones when you’re critical of the league,” Silver said. “We’re all part of a community. I respect him and his point of view. Also, at the same time, I appreciate his professionalism. If you had a chance to see him, as captain and general manager of his team, proceed with the draft, he did it in good humor. He took it very seriously.”
James went to Atlanta, played 12 minutes, checked out in the middle of the second quarter, became a cheerleader for the rest of the night and improved to 4-0 as a captain.
His All-Star break, such as it is, started there. He flew home to Los Angeles after the game, said he was looking forward to a couple days with his family, and preparing for what comes next.
“There’s no concern for me,” James said. “I just try to continue to put my body in the best condition, to be able to endure anything, shortened offseason, shortened regular season, shortened All-Star break. It’s all about my mind, personally. Keeping my mind mentally sharp, keeping my mind mentally fresh.”
When the season restarts, James will be there. There’s half a season left, then the playoffs and a title to defend.
These days will be his last time to really exhale for a while.
The Lakers need him at his best. The NBA would benefit from that as well.