LOS ANGELES — With the playoffs already out of the picture, LeBron James and the Lakers played for pride in Sunday’s 111-106 win over the Sacramento Kings — and to appease the mythical basketball gods.
“I would never cheat myself,” James told Spectrum SportsNet in his on-court interview, after recording his eighth triple-double of the season (and 81st of his career) with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. “I know we’re out the playoff race, but if I’m on the court, I’m going to play how I play, and I play to win. So, I will never cheat the game.
“There’s such a thing called ‘game gods.’ And they’re watching no matter what you’re doing, and it’s our obligation to go out and be a professional, and that’s what I’m about.”
After the contest, James expounded on his approach for the 32-41 Lakers, who snapped a five-game losing streak.
“When I’m on the floor, I’ve got to play the game no matter what our circumstances is, no matter how many minutes I’m out on the floor, through the basketball gods, I’ve always respected the basketball gods,” he said. “If I’m on the floor, I’ve got to try to play as hard as I can or do something to affect the game and not cheat the game. So, if I’m on the floor, if I’m in uniform, then I’ve got to try to make things happen.
“Not saying I’m going to make every shot, not saying I’m going to make every play or not have any turnovers. But just try to make an impact on the game and, like I said, I was on the floor tonight, and I was able to make a couple plays to help make our team win.”
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L.A. trailed at halftime by a point and then used a dominant 39-28 third quarter to take control of the game.
Lakers coach Luke Walton said that even in a lost season, he has stressed to his players the good fortune they all have by being a part of the NBA.
“I’ve talked to the team about it a lot, as far as it being an honor and a privilege to play in this league, and we’re coaching in this league, for all of us,” Walton said. “This game of basketball has allowed us to have incredible opportunities in life. So, that’s been more the message to the group.
“I’ve talked to Bron sporadically throughout the season. But the thing — he knows it. And I think he takes it very serious. He’s been the face of the NBA for however many years now. He’s aware of that, and I think he takes that responsibility, he takes it very seriously.”
James, who is on the first year of a four-year, $153.3 million deal with the Lakers, acknowledged his place in the game.
“Man, that’s just my love of the game. I owe it to myself, and obviously with the fans continuing to show up, they know we’re not making the playoffs; by me owing it to myself, it automatically gives to our fans when I’m out on the floor,” he said. “So, just appreciate them continuing to show up. I owe it to myself. As long I’m going to play this game, I’ve got to stay true to it.”
He echoed an Instagram post from his account on Sunday morning when he made a direct appeal to Lakers fans.
James, who is on a suggested minutes guideline of 32 a night to close out the season, played 35 minutes against the Kings after his right knee swelled up from slipping to the floor on the Lakers’ final possession in Friday’s home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
He was asked if respecting the basketball gods will affect how much he plays in the final nine games of the season, which includes two sets of back-to-backs on the Lakers’ schedule.
“It doesn’t factor into that; it factors in when I’m on the floor,” James said. “I’ve got to continue to see how my body feels when I’m on the floor. Like I said, I didn’t feel great today, but I felt good enough to go out there, and I just trusted myself and trusted my decision.”