The in-season tournament could represent the last chance to watch LeBron James play for a meaningful prize, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. James’ Lakers will host the Suns on Tuesday with a spot in the semifinals at stake. A victory would match them against Sacramento or New Orleans for a berth in the finals, giving one of the league’s most successful franchises an opportunity to add the first-ever NBA Cup to its long list of accomplishments.
While James continues to play at a remarkable level for his age, Hollinger points out that he will turn 39 later this month and can no longer carry a team the way he used to in his prime. He notes that even though L.A. is 12-9, the team was embarrassed in games at Philadelphia and Oklahoma City last week and may not have the roster for another long playoff run.
If that’s true, Hollinger recommends that fans should savor this week’s opportunity to watch James in the spotlight. The Lakers appear to have favorable tournament matchups — they’ll host a Phoenix team that they’ve beaten twice already and then would advance to Las Vegas, where the arena would be packed with L.A. fans. Hollinger adds that the potential of James playing in the in-season tournament final would bring even more prestige to what has turned out to be a successful experiment.
There’s more on the Lakers:
- Jarred Vanderbilt didn’t score in his first game of the season Saturday, but he said it felt good to be back on the court after being sidelined for nearly two months with bursitis in his left heel, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Vanderbilt managed to play nearly 14 minutes, grabbing four rebounds and providing his usual active presence on defense. “Basically just trying to take care of the injury and then building it back up efficiently and smart,” Vanderbilt said of his recovery process. “I didn’t want to get back out there too fast. So that was part of the ramp-up, kind of slowly going through progressions: two versus two, three versus three and then some five-on-five. That’s pretty much it.”
- Coach Darvin Ham considers Cam Reddish a “laid-back dude,” but he showed another side of his personality during a confrontation with Houston’s Tari Eason on Saturday that resulted in a technical foul, Turner states in the same piece. The players were separated before their verbal battle could escalate. “He has a toughness to him, a quiet toughness,” Ham said of Reddish. “I like him being aggressive and assertive. He showed that tonight. Some of the plays he made, that steal he got and kept alive and getting an and-one. I want him passionate about the game.”
- Rui Hachimura was medically cleared to play Saturday, but Ham opted to give him more time to recover from last week’s nasal surgery, Turner adds. “He went through his pre-game workout and still was a little iffy,” Ham said. “… So, just coming off that nose surgery, we felt it was best just to be proactive, to be precautionary, so that’s where we landed.”