NOW that the Los Angeles Lakers have completed dismissing the Portland Trail Blazers in Round One of the NBA (National Basketball Association) Western playoffs, it only needs to get past the winner of the Houston-Oklahoma encounter to accomplish one-half of its championship mission.
But hurdling the first round didn’t appear that easy for the Lakers, who dropped a 100-93 Game 1 loss in a match made meaningless by LeBron James’ seeming resolve to shoot less and pass more.
In the opener, James wanted to involve his teammates more in point-production, transforming himself from passive scorer to team facilitator.
It backfired. But, of course.
So, even as James became the first to accomplish 20+ points, 15+ rebounds and 15+ assists in NBA history in that Game 1 defeat, he was sort of mocked afterward as the greatest stats-schemer of all time.
Obviously irked, James became gun-shy in Game 2, starving himself to only 10 points. It marked only the fourth time that he made such puny points in a playoff game since 2014.
But as James jumped to the backseat, his teammates responded with bunches of baskets and a crippling defense before a stunned Portland, which was averaging 124 points a game before absorbing that 111-88 Game 2 massacre.
Rejuvenated, the old King James resurfaced, assembling three straight 30+ points in the Lakers’ next three wins, the last one a 36-point performance in the first-round clinching Game 5 victory.
When James wills it, his goal almost always gets achieved.
As happened in Game 5, when he fired 36 points—his second highest output in the series after his 38 in the Lakers’ 116-108 Game 3 triumph—to go with his 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 131-122 series clincher highlighted by James’ second triple double in five games.
With the victory, James earned his 14th straight first-round success—three of them leading to NBA crowns for him twice in Miami and once in Cleveland.
Is he on course in winning his first NBA ring in the West? A bit, I guess, even as the Lakers continue their ego-inflating march after being in the playoffs last in 2012.