When the NBA playoffs finally arrive this summer, LeBron James will be looking to win his fourth career NBA title and his first since joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018. He should have a strong chance to do so, too, as the Lakers are atop the Western Conference and are likely going to be one of the top contenders.
Another thing they have going for them? The fact that the 35-year-old had a little more than four months to rest up and should be heading into the playoffs fresher than he has at any point during his 17-year NBA career.
"Aside from making TikTok videos, word is LeBron has stayed in remarkable shape during the layoff," ESPN's Ramona Shelburne recently wrote. "If anything, the time off should have given him time to heal a nagging groin injury that followed him all season."
Despite dealing with that issue, James played well over the first 60 games of the season, averaging 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and an NBA-high 10.6 assists per game. He's played only 34.9 minutes per game, the lowest total of his career, but that should change once the playoffs arrive.
James and the Lakers are in the NBA bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. They are scheduled to play three scrimmages, the first of which is set to take place Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers' first seeding game is scheduled for July 30, when they will play the Los Angeles Clippers.
While it could take James and his teammates a little bit to get back into a groove, it could be in a better spot than some of the other 22 teams because of James' experience and leadership that may play a big role moving forward.
Who Steps Up Alongside James and Davis?
James and Anthony Davis will be Los Angeles' leaders the rest of the season. But in order for the Lakers to go all the way, it will likely take contributions from some of their other key players.
Training camp could give an indication of who might have big roles. According to Anthony Slater of The Athletic, there has been some positive buzz surrounding Kyle Kuzma ahead of the season restart.
"If you've tracked the noise emanating out of camp, Kyle Kuzma apparently has been great, having recovered from the pre-pause body bumps and scoring with potency against his teammates," Slater wrote.
Kuzma's numbers have been a bit down this season, as he's averaged 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 54 games and shot 43.2 percent from the field. But he should have the opportunity to be a key contributor for the Lakers down the stretch.
With Avery Bradley (opted not to play) and Rajon Rondo (fractured right thumb) out, the Lakers will also need some guards to step up and fill those minutes. Slater wrote that Quinn Cook is another player who has been playing well during training camp, although it could be an uphill battle for him to earn playing time.
"He'd have to stay hot to have a chance in this competition, given his defensive shortcomings," Slater wrote.
In his first season in Los Angeles, Cook has averaged 4.8 points in 38 games. He's averaged just 10.8 minutes per game. But given the opportunity for playing time, should he maintain his level ahead of the restart, that could go up.