Lakers News: Latest Buzz on LeBron James, No. 1 Seed, Dion WaitersAugust 5, 2020
Don't look now, but it seems vindication is LeBron James' for the taking.
Last season, the 35-year old superstar missed the playoffs in his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers after making nine straight trips to the NBA Finals.
Even though injuries played a major part in his team missing the postseason, there were whispers that started to float around that he was on the decline and wouldn't be able to turn things around for the Lakers, who hadn't been to the playoffs in five years.
But all of that changed with a 116-108 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night.
With the victory, Los Angeles clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the first time in 10 years, giving the four-time MVP an opportune moment to let everyone know that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
"Since 2010, right?" James told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. "They said I couldn't do it. I'll enjoy this one. They said I can't do it."
James' comments are in line with his motivation tour this season.
Obviously, he'd heard that it was time to relinquish the throne as the best player in the league and made it his mission to prove otherwise.
Back in November, after securing his third-straight triple-double, he alluded to the perceived slights with a "Washed King" tweet.
Since then, he's had another season for the books, posting averages of 25.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and an NBA-leading 10.4 assists per game.
By all accounts, it appears as though the chirping has awakened the sleeping giant.
James looks focused, and his play—especially on the defensive end—is evidence of that.
This year, his defensive rating is 103, a full five points higher than last year.
But the numbers don't tell the full story.
His reinvigorated play on both sides of the ball was on full display in the waning moments of the 103-101 victory over the L.A. Clippers.
With 12.8 seconds left in the game, the ball was inbounded to Kawhi Leonard.
James closed out and played lockdown defense not only on the reigning Finals MVP, but on Paul George, too, forcing him to take an ill-advised, lunging three-point shot as time expired.
That defensive sequence put the rest of the teams in the bubble on notice that James means business and has his eyes on the prize.
"Seeing him play defense just lights a fire under everyone's butt," Kyle Kuzma told Christian Rivas of SB Nation. "It's championship time, and he's just being a great leader by showing us the way. Especially starting on the defensive end, (in) year 17 getting after it. He's had great leadership throughout the quarantine, training camp and even now."
Since the restart of the regular season, the Lakers have a 2-1 record, including a major win over the Clippers.
According to ESPN, the Lakers securing the top seed was historic, too.
They became the first team in league history to earn the top standing in their conference the year after failing to make the top eight in the West five years in a row.
"I can just say it feels damn good to be the No. 1 seed in the West," James said.
Dion Waiters Still Confident
Dion Waiters has a lot to prove in the bubble, and he knows it.
After playing only three games for the Miami Heat this season, he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, who released him shortly thereafter.
Now, with three games as a member of the Lakers under his belt, Waiters is showing that he can fill the stat sheet and part of the void left by the absence of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.
In just over 20 minutes per game off the bench, he's averaging 10 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
Those are respectable numbers, but his shooting needs significant improvement.
He's only hitting 40.7 percent of his shots from the field and shooting a paltry 21.4 percent from three.
Shooting percentages aside, the player also known as "Waiters Island" is still not afraid to shoot it or create off the dribble.
"Me, it's still just trying to be aggressive," Waiters told Ganguli. "Be who I am. Attack, make plays for myself and others. I know my rhythm gonna come. I know my shot gonna fall eventually. But if I'm doing the little things right now, and just trying to get that rhythm and gain momentum into the playoffs, I'll be fine.
"I'm not worried about my shot. I know that's gonna fall eventually. And just continue to keep working. But I'm doing all the little things, getting to the basket, creating, just the little things."
For his part, Waiters is playing through the rust and showing a level of maturity that was called into question while in Miami.
He's taking his comeback game by game and focusing on what he can control, which is playing hard and stepping things up a notch on the defensive end.
Waiters has been an asset since signing with the Lakers back in March.
They will need him to find his rhythm on the perimeter in time for the playoffs so they can continue their mission to bring home another title.
"I think he's still a ways away," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said via video conference. "I think our whole group is not shooting the ball that well from the perimeter, and I think that's going to continue to come as he gets his legs under him.
"Like I said, continuing to gain familiarity with our defensive scheme, our offensive system and the communication and familiarity with his teammates. Those things still have a ways to go, but I think the ceiling is pretty high for what he can do for us. But we're excited about what he has done so far too."
Follow Maurice Bobb on Twitter, @ReeseReport