Lakers' LeBron James Says He's Not Mentally in Playoff Mode Yet

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2020

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second quarter during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said after Monday's 124-121 victory over the Denver Nuggets he's still not in playoff mode with one game left in the team's regular season.

"Me, personally, as far as mentally, I'm not in playoff mode," James told reporters. "Physically, I'm getting there. I feel like my legs have gotten better and better, my game has improved more and more, I'm getting more and more comfortable with the bubble."

The 35-year-old MVP candidate said the outlook will change once the Lakers, who've clinched the top seed in the Western Conference, start their postseason run.

"But as far as the mental side of it, nah, I'm not there," he said. "Personally, I don't think our team is there. But we will be. It's a different type of mindset that you have to be in. But you don't want to jump into it before you actually get there because it takes a lot."

James has typically stepped away from his phone and social media during the playoffs.

LeBron James @KingJames

Zero Dark Thirty-23 Activated!! #StriveForGreatness🚀 https://t.co/HE6VWEaWB8

In July, the three-time NBA champion explained that level of detachment won't be possible this year while the Lakers attempt to chase down a title in the NBA's bubble at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida:

"It's definitely going to have a different mindset, different feel to it. I won't be turning my phone off during this run. I can't afford to. I have to continue to check in with my family every single day. ... I can't afford to do that, just lose direct contact with everybody. I'll be as locked in as I can be under the circumstances. I won't cheat my teammates, I won't cheat our fans and I won't cheat myself. I'll be ready to go."

James and the Lakers have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference with a 52-18 record, and they're the oddsmakers' favorite (+200) to capture the NBA title, per Caesars Palace. The Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks (both +300) are close behind.

L.A. hasn't showcased peak form in the bubble, going 3-4 since play resumed in late July.

The biggest question is whether the Lakers will receive enough secondary contributions behind the tandem of James and Anthony Davis.

It starts with Kyle Kuzma, who hit the game-winning three against the Nuggets to cap his second 20-point performance in his past three outings. It also extends to players like Danny Green, JaVale McGree and Dion Waiters, among others.

Los Angeles also won't have much margin for error in the loaded West. A potential first-round meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers remains possible with four teams still fighting for the final playoff berth. Based purely on talent, Portland would be one of the best No. 8 seeds in history if it gets in.

So, while the Lakers' record is strong and they've earned the distinction of championship favorite, it's going to take absolute peak form from James to give them a chance at the franchise's first title since 2010.