LeBron James’ body defied time at 37, but his biggest challenge could be mental – Orange County Register

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LeBron James has dunked 32 times this season. In a snapshot, each has a timeless quality – a frozen moment that feels like it could have come from any of his 19 years of professional basketball. Skating in the air, it’s hard to tell he turned 37 on Thursday.

It doesn’t happen as often as it used to be, but James gets up anyway. On Wednesday, he surprised 22-year-old Ja Morant as he kept him on the baseline, deflecting and then controlling his shot like the older kid at the playground. It’s these athletic feats that convince many people that James , the third-highest goalscorer in NBA history, who continues to advance with 28 points per game, kind of put time on hold. He sometimes encourages the very idea.

“It’s just my state of mind, don’t get involved in the number of minutes I’ve played, the number of days off,” he said earlier this month. “I don’t limit myself to that. I think you are thinking negative thoughts or negative energy it just creeps into your mind. So I am as young as I have ever been.

But that feeling is an illusion, meant to hide an even more awe-inspiring truth: The league’s four-time MVP doesn’t win the battle against the clock – he changes with it, and it’s possible no one has ever been better at himself. adapt.

There is perhaps no better two-night streak that exemplifies James’ versatility at the Swiss Army Knife: Tuesday in Houston he started center, then on Wednesday he tied a career-high eight with eight 3-pointers scored . On a macro scale, he’s been all the Lakers needed of him. During the 2019-2020 championship season, he led the NBA in assists (10.2 apg). This season, he’s played over 60% of the possessions up front or center, anchoring ultra-small formations that unlocked huge trades for the Lakers. His ever-lively game stands out even more from his 35-plus-year-old teammates, who have shown much more obvious signs of aging.

Although James is still skyrocketing, his offensive regime has changed. As recently as the 2015-16 season, when he was 31, 52 percent of his shots were by the track, and the following season he landed a career-high 142 dunks. This season only 39% of his shots are at the edge, but he pushed his 3-point attempts to a career-high 7.8 per game. His 3-point shot of 36.9% isn’t much higher than his career average, but because he takes more shots from behind the arc, his effectiveness has jumped: his effective goal percentage of 59 , 1% is the highest since the 2016-17 season.

Not only does James – who played as point guard, winger and now center – challenge positional logic, he also challenges historical precedents. The annual discussions about how he will manage his minutes and how much his skills will decline have yet to happen. With his recent six-game 30-point streak, James has become the oldest player to achieve this feat. He already leads the league in combined points in the regular season and playoffs, and at a pace of 26.2 points per game that he maintained during his tenure with the Lakers, he will overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the roster. all-time scorers in just 90 extra games. Only Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, the two remaining players ahead of James on the rosters, have averaged over 20 points per game during their season at 37 – James is on track to become third, averaging highest score of the trio.

James’ continued commitment to conditioning and recovery has taken on a mythological stature: he recently told reporters that he slept 12 hours before a game, and he refers to his commitment to sleep often. He works on mobility and strength with coach Mike Mancias before games and frequently posts workout videos from his home gym. Yet it feels like it only reveals the tip of the iceberg.

“I’ve always had my own path, my own determination, my own pace,” he said Wednesday night. “I literally put, like, work, you know, every day. Either from a physical, mental, or spiritual point of view. The game is still running through my veins. I am thinking of ways to continue to improve my game throughout my final stage of my career.

These things matter to James, who shared social media posts touting him as the fastest to reach 36,000 points after his 32-point triple-double on Tuesday night. But also to win.

On Wednesday, after relinquishing another double-digit lead in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, James was cut and held back, his eyes pointed at the dais behind a white cap with his logo on it. He was upset.

After training him during the Miami Heat dynasty, David Fizdale thinks that James is more patient on a daily basis than he was when he was younger: “I wanted to talk to him now, he wants to be eager to win but it is not. to run after victory. But James moved closer to the truth earlier this month when asked about the team’s five-game losing streak: “Well, I’m not a very patient person, obviously. ”

Despite the team’s slowdown since the injury to Anthony Davis, losing six of their last seven games, the Lakers are still just a game and a half of fifth place in the Western Conference. But the end of their calendar is loaded: the Lakers have the second toughest remaining list by winning percentage (.520), including several games against the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz. While several team members continue to say the Lakers are in their early stages of development due to the roster chaos, their midseason comes in just five games. There isn’t much they can do to gain traction after their disastrous debut.

For years, the biggest question in James’ career was when his body would decompose. Long-term injuries in 2018-19 and 2020-21 brought more gossip about the decline of the LeBron era, but James has always defied even conservative estimates of how long it will last. But in the midst of another hectic season: how long will his mental hunger last?

When the Lakers made their fortune with Russell Westbrook in the offseason, it was a high stakes bet. The front office now has few chips with which it can trade; internal improvement is the clearest way to fight again. If the Lakers continue to flounder and fall out of favor, what’s the path to return to the top with a salary cap stretched to the limit with three players on contract at most, including the James deal?

The thrill of the title race – maybe even the pursuit of Michael Jordan’s Six Rings – is what James called his main motivation. In October, he compared winning a ring to riding a roller coaster at Cedar Point in Ohio.

“It’s one of the biggest, shortest feelings you have,” he said. “You win a championship and everything you put in that year hits you all at the same time. And literally a few hours later it’s like, ‘It’s over.’ And all the time you’re just trying to figure out how to get that moment again. ”

There’s also a growing generation gap: James has now spent more time in the NBA than outside, and this season has brought games against Evan Mobley and Brandon Boston – players who were either teammates or opponents of. his eldest son, 17. -old Bronny: “It’s weird. It gets stranger and stranger day by day. James is the fifth-oldest player to appear in an NBA game this season: former teammate Udonis Haslem (41) played eight games for the deep-hitting Heat, while Joe Johnson (40) is income from retirement with a 10-day contract. . While not the oldest player on his own team (Carmelo Anthony is six months older than James), it probably won’t be long before he finds himself alone at the top.

James believes he has peers in the sports world, but the ones he admires the most are outside of basketball. He said two years ago, “Me and Tom Brady are one: we’re going to play until we can’t walk anymore. He tweeted to celebrate when Brady won his seventh Super Bowl title earlier this season, whetting his appetite to win himself again.

Without this opportunity, it’s harder to see what happens to James’ career. The Lakers certainly have star power until the end of his contract in 2023, with Davis and Westbrook still linked on the roster. But the chaotic start to this season is already making many observers question whether the pieces are right. Is James ready to continue breaking records for years to come if the Lakers fail to straighten their course?

These questions constantly draw on his legacy as the unknowable end of James’ career approaches, but throughout his time he always has a little more time than you might think. And whether that retreat is sooner or later, it feels like it will be on James’ terms – not Father Time’s.

“Ultimately the game will tell you, your body will tell you, your mind will tell you,” he said. “I’ve spent enough hours and enough clocks that when that moment comes, I’ll be okay with it.” ”

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