Dave McMenaminESPN staff writer5 minute reading
LOS ANGELES — The night before LeBron James scored a season-high 37 points — including the go-ahead free throw with 1.9 seconds left — while logging 40 minutes to lead the Lakers over the Houston Rockets 105-104 on Sunday, he had something to get off the chest.
It was a rare night off for the 38-year-old with his team in the middle of a six-game stretch in nine days, and he took a break from playing Madden NFL 24 to make a post for his Instagram story.
He shared a graphic showing how his 35 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday was the 108th time he topped the 30-point plateau since signing with Los Angeles as a free agent in 2018.
“But I just came here to make movies!” James wrote in reference to the taunts he received when he moved out of Cleveland. “Isn’t that what you want to say!?!?”
Why did he choose that moment to clap back at the critics?
“Because sometimes you need to remind people of that,” James said Sunday after the win over the Rockets.
Reminding his teammates that he can still get in the air, he capped a drive with a thunderous dunk midway through the fourth that put LA up by seven and prompted Houston to call timeout.
“They’ve been kidding me saying I put the ball up too much when I got an open lane,” James said with a satisfied smile. “So I’m trying to change that narrative as well.”
He reminded the armchair coaches who questioned why he would pass to an open Cam Reddish with the game on the line earlier this season that he will continue to find the open man in crunch time, as he did by setting up Austin Reaves for a ready 3-pointer with 24.2 seconds left to put LA up 103-100.
He reminded the Rockets’ Dillon Brooks, who has become a willing agitator of his in recent seasons, to rattle the cage at his peril as James scored 13 of his fourth-quarter points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“It’s competition,” James said of Brooks, who in the third quarter caused a technical foul to be called on James by crowding his seat and inciting an elbow, and in the fourth caused James to make a “too small” gesture after scoring on him in the paint. “The young guys, they get me going. So I need that.”
And James reminds himself why he still wants to play in the NBA, with his financial future and career accomplishments already secured.
“I’m just trying to push the limit,” he said. “See how far I can take this thing. I don’t know. I mean, it’s me vs. Father Time.”
James is now up to 109 games with 30 or more points as a Laker, passing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant on another all-time list while doing so. James is up to 237 career games of 35 or more points, eclipsing Bryant’s 236, to move into third all-time behind only Wilt Chamberlain (381) and Michael Jordan (333).
James did so while shooting 14-of-19 from the field (73.7%) as he continued what would be the most efficient season he’s ever had if he continues. James is now shooting 58.6% overall for the season through 13 games, which is better than his career best year with the Miami Heat in 2013-14 when he shot 56.7%. His 39.7% from 3 is also not far off the career-best 40.6% he made when he joined Miami in 2012-13.
“I’ve been able to be on the court a lot more during the off days this year because of previous injuries the last couple of years with my foot or whatever it may be,” James told ESPN. “So being able to hone in on everything I need to do instead of having to stand up unless we’re playing games has allowed me to stay in rhythm.
“I got my jump back, my spring back, my quick twitch back and stuff like that.”
He’s also got his spirit back, it seems. After ending his 20th season by being ripped from the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets and openly considering retirement, and after that with a summer in which his oldest son, Bronny James, went into cardiac arrest, his joy for the game has been unmistakable this season.
“The one special thing about Bron is,” Reaves said, “I’ve never really seen him in a bad mood. He always has energy. He’s the oldest player in the NBA but still acts like he’s 20 every day. “
He did it Sunday with Bronny in the build-up classes after the USC freshman was able to participate in his team’s pregame warmups for the first time this season.
“I looked over at one point and saw Bronny sitting by the yard as well and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to have to turn it up a little bit more,'” James said.
Turns up and turns back time.
“He was outstanding,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The LeBron we’ve all come to know and love over these 21 years.”