LeBron James has not missed the NBA playoffs in back-to-back seasons since his first two campaigns and the Los Angeles Lakers star really doesn’t want it to happen this year.
The 38-year-old playmaker who became the NBA’s all-time scoring leader earlier this month said before Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game that the closing push to reach a playoff spot is among his biggest regular-season quests.
“It’s 23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season,” James said. “It’s the type of mindset that I have and I hope the guys will have coming back off the break.”
The Lakers have struggled to a 27-32 start and rank 13th in the Western Conference.
That’s two games behind Oklahoma City for 10th and the last spot in the post-season play-in games and 3.5 games behind sixth-place Dallas for the last guaranteed playoff spot.
“I want to make a push to make the playoffs,” James said. “I don’t want to see myself not being part of the post-season for two years straight. It’s just not part of my DNA.
“We’re sitting up here talking about the record and things of that nature, and that’s all cool, but I’m more passionate about trying to make the post-season and give ourselves a chance to compete for another (title).”
James was the top overall NBA Draft pick by Cleveland in 2003. He was the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year and reached his first NBA All-Star Game in 2005 but the Cavaliers missed the playoffs both seasons — the only time so far James missed consecutive NBA playoffs.
James reached the post-season from 2006 through 2018, winning NBA titles with Miami in 2012 and 2013 and Cleveland in 2016, and taking another in 2020 after missing the post-season with the Lakers in 2019.
The Lakers missed the playoffs last season after going 33-49 and need a charge to avoid another flop.
“I hope I can figure out a way to just make sure that I’m available on the floor every single night for these 23 games to give us a chance,” James said.
James missed three games with a left foot injury before making a comeback last Wednesday.
“Feeling pretty good right now,” James said. “The most important thing for me right now is to maintain my health and be available to my teammates after this break because we have to make a strong push if we want to do anything special.”
By special, James means that he thinks the Lakers can compete with anyone if they can make the playoffs.
“I’ve always been confident in any club that I’ve been on, once we got into the playoffs, that we can compete with anyone and I feel no different now,” James said.
“With the roster the way we’re shaped up right now, if we can finish off this regular season on the right foot, then we can compete versus anyone in the Western Conference, if not the whole league.
“It’s going to take a lot of commitment… but yeah, I feel like if we can punch our ticket, we can compete versus anyone.”
LeBron likes Vegas
James repeated that he would some day like to own an NBA team and likes the opportunity in Las Vegas, where NFL and NHL teams thrive and Formula One plans a spectacular new race.
“Ownership is something I’m a part of now off the court in a lot of things,” James said. “To be able to translate that to the game of basketball, I feel like I could give back to this game in so many fashions, even when I’m not in uniform, that could benefit the sport.
“I would love to at some point down the road own an NBA franchise and be able to bring a winning franchise to a city. Vegas is a really cool city, and they’re doing some great things in sports these days.”