LOS ANGELES — The chorus that was reverberating in Staples Center late in Sunday’s matinee echoed all the way to the Lakers’ locker room.
“MVP,” said Anthony Davis.
“MVP,” said Kyle Kuzma.
MVP, said the Lakers, as a group, as LeBron James helped drive another win over another of the NBA’s top teams for the second time in 48 hours.
With 28 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two blocks in the 112-103 win over the Clippers, James again pushed himself to the forefront of a conversation many NBA observers believe is already over. With the Milwaukee Bucks slated to finish with the NBA’s best record and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading James in points, rebounds and other key advanced statistics, the lead has been perceived as insurmountable for the Greek Freak to win his second straight MVP award.
Ahem, the Lakers said on Sunday, have you watched lately?
“They need to watch the last two games,” Davis said. “I mean, what he’s been able to do — taking on matchups defensively, leading the pack offensively, making the right plays — you don’t see that from a guy who is 17 years in the league and his team is number one in the West. He’s continuing to show the world why he’s the best and if people don’t understand that, then the last two games, I think they understand now.”
In eight games since the All-Star break, James has raised his game. The Lakers are 7-1, and he’s averaging 30.7 points, 9.5 assists and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 55 percent and getting to the line more often. During the weekend, he played a pivotal role by guarding each team’s best player for stints and methodically controlling halfcourt possessions — Rajon Rondo referred to Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard as “supposed MVP candidates.”
Notably the Lakers pulled away in both games in the second half, outscoring the Bucks by 10 after halftime on Friday, and the Clippers by 13 on Sunday. After beating the No. 1 team in the East and the No. 2 team in the West, Frank Vogel felt confident enough to call James’ last two games “his best weekend in a Lakers uniform.
“I wasn’t here last year. but in my mind, this season, this was his best two-game stretch,” he said. “Really just dominated — dominated — both games and helped close them out.”
Two great games does not an MVP make, but the Lakers would also argue that relative to his age, 35-year-old James has been more impressive than 25-year-old Antetokounmpo. He’s leading the league in assists, which he’s never done before, while remaining a scorer over the 25 ppg threshold.
To JaVale McGee, there was no doubt that James has marked himself the best player in the world for staving off his years.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to put the numbers and get the wins, do the things that he’s doing, put the numbers up he’s putting up and getting the wins he’s getting at 35,” he said. “You’ve had a summer off maybe, what, twice? That’s crazy! That’s a lot of mileage on your legs.”
Earlier this week James downplayed the chase for a fifth MVP, which would tie him second all-time with Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. He said he’s motivated by being the best to ever play — MVP awards are just a byproduct of that goal, he suggested.
But James acknowledged that he is motivated, and has been all offseason — something that has continued to drive him forward in his 17th season.
“I put a lot of work into my rehabbing with my groin, getting back to full strength even when I was shooting a movie,” he said. “If you follow me on social media, I was in the weight room at three, four o’ clock in the morning, making sure that I was preparing myself for this season no matter what was going on. Just keeping ‘the main thing’ the main thing.”