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    Swanson: LeBron James, Lakers are much better in closeout win, as promised
    • April 29, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — We’ve got deep fakes and self-cloning. Losing isn’t failing. And if you speak Clipper, a sprain and a tear are one in the same. Also, war is peace. Ignorance is strength. Two and two make five.

    But we have LeBron James, old reliable, a man who means what he says and says what he means.

    When he swore – “I was (expletive)” – after a 5-for-17 effort in a coulda-closed-out game in Memphis on Wednesday and then swore, “I’ll be better in Game 6,” he darn well intended to follow through.

    So Friday, in the seventh-seeded Lakers’ swashbuckling 125-85 closeout win against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies – ending their first-round Western Conference playoff series in six games – he uncorked clinical, classic LeBron, vintage 1984.

    If not exactly better with age, then still better than 99.9% of the basketball players on the planet. The ultimate tone-setter, he did us a solid by going out and restoring some faith in reality at Arena.

    He was at the arena five hours early, “locked in as usual,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Nothing different, you know. Just normal LeBron.”

    A normal day at the office? A big day, a bring-your-“Game 7 mentality”-to-work day, James said. Whatever it took to avoid a third trip to Memphis.

    As Anthony Davis swooped and swatted and D’Angelo Russell poured in a playoff career-high 31 points, a rested-as-possible James delivered a presentation of Actual Intelligence. With his off-ball, driving-and-dishing display, he found colleagues open in the corners and at the rim, beneficiaries of James’ calculations, which added up to six assists.

    And he kept them in line, staring down Austin Reaves after a missed assignment – Reaves said he got the message: “We ain’t doing that, you gotta get there” – and then he danced with the youngster after Reaves finished a nifty Euro-step-into-a-reverse-layup.


    — LakeShowYo (@LakeShowYo) April 29, 2023


    He modeled predictive rebounding (five for the game) and lent his presence to a defense that was clicking, unbothered, unruffled, organized.

    Behind Davis’ five monster blocked shots and 14 rebounds, the Lakers squeezed all the brash out of the big-talking Grizzlies, who shot a pitiful, pitiable 30.2%, scored fewer points than they had all season, and lost by a larger margin than in any game but two.

    Rhythm and flow: James logged an easy and series-low 31 minutes, finished a team-high plus-32 in the box score and shot 9 for 13 for 22 points.

    “Felt pretty good when I woke up this morning,” James said during a jovial postgame news conference. “Felt excellent, actually.”

    He cut back on the 3-point attempts that had been nearly 40% of his shot diet in the first five games. A selection that was giving the Lakers mostly empty calories: He was shooting 16.7% on 36 of them, worse than anyone who had shot so many from deep this postseason – even Memphis’ Dillon Brooks, who entered Friday 8 for 37 from behind the arc.

    Only five of James’ attempts Friday night were from 3-point range, and seven of his baskets were from close range.

    He did decree.

    Told us so and then went gliding for a smooth reverse dunk late in the first half that pushed the Lakers’ lead to 59-42 and bumped James’ own tally to 16 on 7-for-9 shooting.

    I saw the play unfold and figured he’d get a layup but I did NOT have reverse dunk on my bingo card.. at 38??? #LeBron #WUT

    — BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 29, 2023

    “It definitely starts with me,” James had said Wednesday night in Memphis, ahead of his four-hour commute back to L.A. ahead of work Friday, the first-round series having picked up to a tiring every-other-day beat. “I was not very good at all. I think defensively, I was pretty good, but offensively, I was not really good.”

    Age ain’t nothing – but the numbers said the 38-year-old James shot 29.4% in Game 5, which was worse than in all but nine of his 271 previous career playoff games, his teams now 2-10 in games when he makes fewer than 30% of his shot attempts.

    Ham knew his biggest star would come out of it Friday: “He’ll definitely catch rhythm, catch fire at some point tonight. Hopefully from the outset.”

    The Lakers had their first lead halfway through the first quarter and never gave it back.

    And their leader, 20 years into his NBA employment and spry enough still to run one of the NBA’s youngest teams out of the gym, led the charge.

    James’ vision is sharp, seeing 20-20 in the Lakers’ 117-111 Game 4 win, when he recorded his first 20-point, 20-rebound game that night, the first in the playoffs by a Laker since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

    And now he’s earned some valuable time off while the Lakers wait for Golden State and Sacramento to sort themselves out up north, their first-round series going to a winner-take-all seventh game on Sunday.

    A blow, a breather, critical before the Lakers get back to playing every other day, before James gets back to the business of being better.

    As James told his teammates: “As hard as this series felt, as hard as this series was, it gets even harder when you move a level up. So we were able to conquer Level 1, now we’ll move to Level 2, it gets harder. They understood that and they’ll be ready for it.”

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    ​ Orange County Register